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Philippines: Mirror images

Several demonstrators and policemen were killed and more than a hundred injured, including a dozen riot police, as violence swept through areas in Manila near the presidential palace on Tuesday. This followed days of mass demonstrations against the jailing of the Philippines' duly elected president Joseph Estrada, overthrown by a military coup in late January. With the support of the military and national police, it appears that the January "People Power"-installed President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, the former vice president, after declaring a "state of rebellion" in Manila, has prevailed and is holding on to state power.

Under the Arroyo "state of rebellion" declaration, which allows for emergency arrests without court warrants, Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Gregorio Honasan and former national police chief Panfilo Lacson have been ordered arrested for allegedly instigating the Estrada supporters' march on the presidential palace. Early reports indicated that Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago was also on the arrest list, but later reports said that she was not and that the Arroyo government is considering asking her to turn state witness. Also on the arrest list were former ambassador to the United States Ernesto Maceda and two active-duty generals.

"Mob violence: 3 dead, 113 injured," read the May 1 headline of the Philippine Inquirer, a non-too-shy pro-Arroyo daily. Manila's Archbishop Jaime Cardinal Sin condemned allies of Estrada for allegedly instigating the poor to storm the presidential palace and triggering deadly street riots. In a mass celebrated before government supporters, he said he was not blaming the poor who joined in seven days of protests that culminated in Tuesday's violence. "But those who abused and manipulated the poor will be accountable to God. Those who capitalized on the people's weakness will face the wrath of God," he said. "The blood of innocent victims is in their hands."

Anyone who had a direct or indirect participation in the recent rebellion in Mendiola (the area near the presidential palace) and other parts of Manila will be arrested, Justice Secretary Hernando Perez announced. "If you've participated in the move to oust the president, or joined the riots in Malacanang, that's part of the rebellion, even if you're staying in an air-conditioned room," Perez said in a radio interview, adding that, "We will not let these acts go unpunished," and that rebellion is a capital offense under Philippine laws.

In his analysis of events, Inquirer columnist Amando Doronila opined that, "The poor were the victims" and that, "The attack on Malacanang today by pro-Estrada HORDES [our emphasis] was a direct consequence of the inflammatory rhetoric during six nights of rallies in Edsa." On a second thought, he added that, "To say that the attack on the palace was carried out by a paid mob ignores reality and heaps insult on the already exploited poor. True, many were paid and bused to provide numbers at the rallies, but it is equally true that many went to Edsa to express genuine grievances."

Well now, nice to be on the winning side and to dole out victors' justice. But that even a Prince of the Church (Roman Catholic) would have no compunctions to hypocritically condemn to fry in hell those who supported the president they elected in overwhelming numbers is a bit of a worry. Has the good cardinal so quickly forgotten his own incitements to rebellion of just three months ago? In the eyes of his god, is it more acceptable to incite mobile-phone toting, well-to-do denizens of the Makati business district to overthrow a duly elected president than to urge Manila's poverty-stricken slum dwellers to defend the man they elected from capital punishment? We prefer to assume that the church he represents is not an institution to condone that type of vile hypocrisy.

And has "Justice" Secretary Perez forgotten where he was in late January when the shoe was on the other foot? Has he bothered to duly prosecute those "in air-conditioned rooms" who plotted and carried out the overthrow of the constitutional government in the country he has helped convert into a pitiable banana republic?

Has the Philippine Inquirer given some thought to the inanity of calling defenders of an elected president a "mob" while previously lauding those who engineered and acted as the shock troops of his unconstitutional overthrow as "heroes"?

Is Armando Doronila now so scared of the "pro-Estrada hordes" that in the very next paragraph after calling them such names he has to come up with some condescending apology?

It's nice to be rich. It's nice to be in power. It's even better to make some money on all sides of a political divide as apparently - according to the words of Senior Superintendent Eduardo Matillano, the Southern Mindanao police chief - the Philippines national police leadership recommended to its members nationwide: "Accept the money, but don't join the coup. And report the coup plotters!"

We have often wondered why, a dozen years after the demise of the Soviet Union, the world's first workers' state, the communist rebellion in the Philippines appears to be alive and well - alive and well enough in any case to have prompted the Arroyo government to enter into peace negotiations with it. We shall wonder no more. The combination of clerical hypocrites, elite family business circles, paid-under-the-table bureaucrats and "envelope journalists" that now runs the country deserves a good strong dose of communist justice.

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