Whoever would have thought that the Philippines would be the next Somalia? Indeed, a few years ago, that question would have been ignored and ridiculed.
But today, there are disturbing signs that seem to manifest the unthinkable: The Philippines could become the Somalia of Asia! What happened?
In my article, “Road to Perdition or Redemption” (PerryScope, November 9, 2007), I wrote: “Arroyo’s dismal failure and egregious disregard — and disrespect — for the people’s sentiments should be grounds to abrogate her mandate of government. In six and a half years of usurped authority, Arroyo is embroiled in a quagmire of corruption and deception.
She implemented ineffective programs and projects that only fed the voracious appetite of kleptocrats in her government. Indeed, as several bishops and political leaders have stated, Arroyo no longer has the moral authority to lead the people. Under Arroyo’s leadership — and skullduggery — the country is on the road to perdition. It will no longer be the ‘Sick Man of Asia’ but will soon become the ‘Somalia of Asia’ where anarchy would be the order — or disorder — of the day and warlords reign supreme in their fiefdoms.”
Private armies and paramilitary groups
Unfortunately for former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s successor, President Benigno Aquino III, the country hasn’t only changed since 2007 – it got worse! The Philippines is now closer to becoming the Somalia of Asia. As a matter of fact, some parts of the country are almost like Somalia. Most parts of Mindanao — particularly Maguindanao – have the telltale signs of another Somalia in the making: overpopulation, poverty, corruption, and lawlessness where warlords rule and commit crime with impunity.
The massacre of 58 unarmed civilians including 32 journalists last November 23, 2009 alleged to be committed by the powerful Ampatuan clan of Maguindanao has brought to the consciousness of the people that the government has been rendered inutile in maintaining peace and order. In the nine years of Arroyo’s presidency, military and paramilitary units killed more than a thousand people allegedly and several hundred more disappeared without a trace. These extrajudicial killings continue to this day.
In the Maguindanao massacre, the Ampatuans allegedly used four armed groups: the clan’s private army, Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Units (CAFGUs), Civilian Volunteer Organizations (CVOs), and – disturbingly – Philippine National Police (PNP) personnel stationed in Maguindanao. With that kind of firepower at their disposal, the Ampatuans ruled with absolute power over their political domain. Nobody would dare challenge them. And their political alliance with Arroyo provided them with immense influence as well as protection.
Had there been no survivor from the massacre, and all the victims buried without a trace, the bloody incident wouldn’t have attracted international attention and could easily have been “swept under the carpet.” And the Ampatuans would continue on their bloody merry way.
A few days after the heinous mass murder, Arroyo created the Independent Commission Against Private Armies (ICAPA) and ordered the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the PNP to dismantle all private armies in the entire country before the May 10, 2010 elections. But like most commissions that Arroyo created during her presidency, the ICAPA — better known as the Zeñarosa Commission – missed its deadline. However, it completed its work and submitted its report to outgoing President Arroyo and incoming President Aquino on June 30, 2010.
To date, Aquino is still reviewing the Zeñarosa report. However, he indicated that he would not dismantle the CAFGUs and CVOs (formed by the military during Cory Aquino’s presidency). He said that his government would work toward professionalizing the paramilitary groups. The problem with Aquino’s proposal is that it would also professionalize those who are trigger-happy; thus, making them more dangerous and prone to commit more abuses. That would be tantamount to licensing armed goons to kill.
Indeed, with 50,000 CAFGU members and 800,000 CVO members across the country, we are looking at humongous time bomb ready to explode.
Another factor that would put the Philippines into the category of “impoverished” countries like Somalia is runaway population growth. Dr. Malcolm Potts, a US-based demographer and health expert, said in a recent forum hosted by the Asia Society Philippine Foundation Incorporated in Metro Manila that “due to its ballooning population, there would be about 160 million Filipinos, from the estimated 94 million today, in the next 40 years which could pose a huge problem of how to feed, clothe, educate and house them.” Interestingly, he mentioned another “disturbing aspect” of the population problem: “About 600,000 babies were born in the past four months after President Aquino took over Malacañang on June 30” or 5,000 babies born every day.
With the specter of population explosion, the congressional debate on the controversial Reproductive Health bills — which have been dormant in Congress for the past eight years due to strong opposition from the Catholic Church – might finally come to a vote and pass with the strong backing of Aquino.
In my article, “Is it time for population control?” (PerryScope, October 5, 2010), I wrote: “In 1903 when the first census was taken, the population of the Philippines was 7,635,426. Thirty-six years later in 1939, the population more than doubled to 16,000,303. Twenty-nine years later in 1960, the population increased by 169 % to 27,087,685. Forty-seven years later in 2007, the population increased by a staggering 327 % to 88,574,614. This year, 2010, the population is estimated at 97,976,603, an increase of more than 11% in three years or 3.67 % per year. At this rate, the population would be 500 million in 50 years, 1.2 billion in 80 years, and 2.2 billion in 100 years!”
If the Aquino government took the wrong step in dealing with paramilitary groups, it could end up institutionalizing warlordism similar to what’s happening in Somalia where a central government is diminished to an impotent body and its military arm fractured and rendered useless.
Is the Philippines on the road to becoming the “Somalia of Asia” and beyond redemption?