Global Perspective

September 16, 2005 Vol. 3, No. 19

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Gemma Tulud Cruz
Gemma Tulud Cruz is in her final year working toward a doctorate in Intercultural Theology at the Radboud University Nijmegen, the Netherlands. Her email address is



Why political crises seem all too familiar

By Gemma Tulud Cruz

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Nijmegen, The Netherlands -- These days I cannot help but think of the crisis besetting my home country. Even if I try not to, I read about it when I do my morning ritual of surfing the Web sites of the Philippines' major newspapers, or see it for myself when I watch CNN or EuroNews.

By now, chances are that you have heard of the political crisis plaguing the legislative and, most especially, the executive branch of the Philippine government: allegations of rigged elections, presidential impeachment talks, rumors that the opposition is trying to destabilize the government, and charges that high-ranking government officials, including the president's family, are deeply involved in jueteng -- an illegal gambling racket that rakes in 50 million pesos daily and provides pay-offs to politicians and police and military officials. I don't think I have to elaborate on the debilitating effects this has on the economy and, consequently, on the well-being of my fellow Filipinos. But, surely, it has considerable effects on the national psyche.

Two decades have not yet passed since Filipinos struggled against Marcos' election fraud. It has been just a few years, as well, since Joseph Estrada went through impeachment, partly because of jueteng charges. And now this one…another scandal plaguing, again, a Philippine president for similar reasons, that is, involvement in jueteng and election fraud.

What is one supposed to make, for instance, of the stonewalling of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo whose phone call to a Commission on Elections official during ballot counting was caught on tape? Of course the tape was made public. Arroyo made a nationally televised confession and asked forgiveness but not for election fraud but for her "lapse of judgment."

Moreover, how does one assess the suggestions that these recent events, which have put the country in deep crisis, are actually part of a plan by the political opposition to get their hands on power?

Many of my friends express deep concerns and send me e-mails seeking prayers for the country. Others see it as all too familiar and express irritation, exasperation, and even anger.

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Power in the hands of the right persons -- whether in the judiciary, executive or legislative branch of government -- can be liberative and transformative. In the hands of the self-serving, however, power can be repressive and destructive. As Lord Acton's dictum goes: "Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely."

Still, I cannot help but ponder: Where lies the trouble? Moreover, what insights does this current political crisis offer?

I am very much tempted to think that the problems besetting my country may not, after all, be the culture of poverty but a poverty of culture, but that would be an injustice to the majority of ordinary Filipinos who continue to struggle for good governance. I rather see it as a poverty of character, a lack of integrity, particularly among the country's leaders. Call it poverty of integrity if you will. There are, of course, principled leaders, but some in their climb up the political ladder become political turncoats or political butterflies. Corruption and incompetence hounds even those from the lower levels of the political hierarchy.

Close to two years ago I wrote in this column (Poverty: daily staple of Philippine society) of the storm-ravaged bridge in the village where I was born. Talking with our provincial governor before I left the Philippines in 2002, he lamented the lack of funds and the marginalization of such projects by those who could find and give funds, namely, members of congress. Unfortunately politicians prefer to construct, fix and beautify bus shelters and basketball courts more than water wells, roads and bridges. They even have the temerity to emblazon their names on these projects, giving the impression that the money spent was theirs and not the tax payers'. To this day, the bridge remains unfinished. The villagers still have to ride a motorboat to get to town.

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Even my fellow Filipinos in the troubled southern part of the Philippines are not spared from this malaise of dishonorable leadership. Nur Misuari, leader of the Moro National Liberation Front, who negotiated a peace deal with the Philippine government in 1996 that resulted in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao and was then elected governor of that region, has been hounded by allegations of corruption. Now he sits in jail not for corruption but for rebellion.

Despite hundreds of millions of dollars being channeled into the autonomous region, today, the Philippine Daily Inquirer writes that "two out of three people in the region live in poverty and only one out of 10 children complete basic education." Still, as I write this (Aug. 8) more than a million Muslim Filipinos in Mindanao are going to the polls to elect a new government for the autonomous region. Independent poll observers from the Australia, Canada, New Zealand and United States were expected to visit to "assess the conduct of elections amid widespread perception and fears that there could be cheating to manipulate votes." As expected the election went on, the ballots have been counted, winners have been proclaimed but not without some dispute.

More recently the House of Representatives voted to uphold its justice committee's report dismissing the three impeachment complaints against President Arroyo. The decision that came from that marathon session and sealed a constitutionally-enshrined channel for removing inept, corrupt or debauched presidents was good news for Arroyo. It ensured that she could walk among the other world leaders at the U.N. summit this week and preside in the assembly meeting on security Sept. 14 without stains of impeachment charges. But it did not secure the closure that Filipinos want and need. The truth remains out there. Meanwhile, the specters of recurring crises and a divided nation loom larger than ever.

These days I can only hope and pray that my home country will have leaders with integrity so it will know justice and my people will live in peace.

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