Strong Republic, Barracks Republic

Analysts have interpreted GMA’s Strong Republic during her July 2002 speech as a project of elite democracy to build a strong state. GMA and her inner circle, however, would refer not only to the state itself, but also to the Philippine Republic or to the more ideological Philippine nation-state.

In an attempt to add clarity to the confusion, GMA identified four institutions that would be strengthened to build a strong Philippine Republic. In her policy speech last February 2003 at the De la Salle University in Manila, the President identified the four institutions as effective government, a vigorous free enterprise economy, a true and vigorous democratic representation, and a vibrant civil society.

Beneath these pompous thrusts, what we see in GMA’s Strong Republic is the drive to strengthen the coercive arm of a strong state. Moreover, the Strong Republic schema is dangerously slithering towards a Barracks Republic.

To set the record straight, Akbayan is also batting for a strong state–but definitely not the parochial, elitist or despotic type peddled by the incumbent administration and other elite fractions. We espouse a strong activist state based on participatory democracy and expansion of civil liberties, a strong state that gives premium to the energies of the working peoples and marginalized sectors of our society, one that will invigorate the economy and promote national development. GMA’s Strong Republic, however, is not only in stark contrast to ours—her version is actually veering in the opposite direction.

Even before the formal electoral campaign season has started, GMA has authorized both the military and police to conduct widespread random checkpoints all over the country. In actual practice, these checkpoints go beyond Supreme Court guidelines “plain view” inspections. Government is also vigorously pushing for a national ID system. These immediately appear as government’s ill-advised and knee-jerk reactions to an irate business community.

Surely, a national ID system can be beneficial to expedite transactions with government, or even with the private sector. Under COMELEC’s authority, checkpoints are critical to lessen electoral violence and fraud during the formal electoral season. Government’s objectives, however, are directed elsewhere, as these measures are intended to “combat crime, terrorism and fraud.” As such, both the random checkpoints and the national ID system militate against our civil liberties and human rights; government and law enforcers are bound to denigrate every citizen as “guilty [unless proven otherwise]” of terrorism, fraud and other crimes. A garrison state atmosphere would ensue, with a distorted bureaucracy presiding over society.

Rather than pick on the citizenry, we urge government to look more intently this time again in the mirror. Government ought to be scared of its own image. Better yet, ask the man on the street, for he would honestly say that rotten sections of the military and police ranks are at the core of the rampant criminality over the whole archipelago. This abomination reproduces itself over and over again, constantly nourished no less by government corruption and senseless elite politicking. 

Rather than vent its ire on the citizenry, the GMA administration must keep tab of and punish the scoundrels in government, military and police ranks. While sleuthing for coup plotters, government must not feign oblivious to the criminal activities of military and police rogues, including those already out of service or those on AWOL. If government were bent on developing an elite strong state, a robust system of “national ID” and “checkpoints” should be redirected to police government itself. This is a foremost requirement if a “Strong Republic” project, or any other similar elite-driven scheme, were to succeed.

Many local human rights organizations have already painted a sordid picture of GMA’s human rights record thus far. Our estimates indicate over 1,000 violations, which has affected around 100,000 victims to date. The proposed national ID system, the controversial checkpoints, and similar ploys will surely jack up the figures.

Controversial measures to erect a coercive state of the elite would only alienate the citizenry further. If government wishes to arrest cynicism and anarchy, it should also have to attend to the political and cultural reasons of its eroded credibility and legitimacy. A Barracks Republic would only fire up the seething wrath of a citizenry fed up with bad governance. 

Ronald Llamas

President, Akbayan Citizens Action Party