Fri, Feb 02, 2001 - Page 13 News List

Lessons from the Philippine coup

The ousting of President Estrada points toward the future of globalization

By Antonio C. Hsiang 向駿

In the Balkans and in Africa, where national courts have proved incapable of halting and punishing widespread atrocities, the new international tribunals are exercising that most guarded of national powers, criminal jurisdiction, on an international basis. In fact, Pinochet's case in Chile already shows that national criminal justice systems are responding to the pressure of globalization. After years of international wrangling, Pinochet's case is being handled where it belongs.

Arroyo's ascension gives Manila a fresh chance to address longstanding problems of political corruption and disappointing economic growth. She comes to the office well prepared. The daughter of a former Philippine president, she graduated from Georgetown University with a PhD in economics.

She served in Aquino's administration, won election as a senator and then, in 1998, was elected vice president.

However, she must make clear that business interests will no longer be able to buy political influence and government contracts through campaign contributions to top legislators.

Contracts should be submitted to open bidding. Independent judges should be named. Sheila Corronel correctly points out that "the task ahead is clear: democratic institutions must be made stronger" (Los Angeles Times, Jan. 28, 2001).

In taking over from Estrada, Arroyo has pledged to "change the character of our politics in order to create fertile ground for true reforms." Her key word is "character."

Without demanding a certain honesty and purity from elected officials that can curb the influence of money, a democracy is not really within the power of the people.

In just one week, Arroyo is already learning a painful lesson: uniting widely disparate factions to unseat one government is very different from getting them to work together to build a new one. In fact, Those factions may try to unseat Arroyo if she does not recognize and reward the role they played in toppling Estrada. Furthermore, supporters of Estrada asked the Supreme Court on January 29 to explain the legality of his removal -- a step that could herald a legal challenge to the new president's authority. Without an institutionalized democracy, "People Power III" will never be far away.

Antonio C. Hsiang (向駿) is assistant professor of the Graduate Institute of Latin American Studies in Tamkang University.

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