On May 10,
Filipinos went to the polls and re-elected President Gloria
Macapagal Arroyo, but her victory does not change the systemic
weaknesses responsible for many of the Philippines' problems.
During Arroyo's next term, security and economic issues will
continue to dominate the U.S.-Philippine relationship. Given the
recurring nature of these problems, the Bush administration and
Congress should greet skeptically new requests for aid to alleviate
poverty or to assist the military's fight against terrorism.
Instead, the administration and Congress should focus on
strengthening Philippine law enforcement agencies, including the
police and the judiciary, and look to the success of trade
agreements with Singapore, Vietnam, and Thailand as models for
improved trade relations with the Philippines.
existence of two insurgencies for more than three decades is a
telling indicator of the ineffectiveness of Philippine security
policy. Long after communism's demise, the anachronistic New
People's Army, the only remaining communist insurgency in Southeast
Asia, lingers on in the Philippines. Another terrorist group, the
Moro Islamic Liberation Front, is nominally fighting for an
independent Muslim state, but the group lacks support even on the
island of Mindanao, where most of the Philippines' Muslims live.
Military and political operations against these groups have been
The police conduct
about 80 percent of counterterrorism operations in the Philippines,
but, inexplicably, there are fewer police than soldiers in the
country. The judicial system further undermines police efforts to
fight terrorism. When the police do capture terrorists, the courts
sometimes fail to prosecute them fully. Moreover, a number of
convicted terrorists have escaped from jail.
persistent economic anemia has caused it to fall behind many of its
Southeast Asian neighbors. The 2004 Index of Economic
Freedom categorizes the Philippines as "mostly unfree," due in
large part to restrictions on foreign investments and inadequate
legal protections for business. The constitution restricts foreign
investment, and there are an insufficient number of police and
judges. The courts are underfunded, corrupt, inefficient, and
government is powerless to resolve these problems because of a
constitution that imbues domestic politics with crises. A major
constitutional weakness is that the President and Vice President
are elected separately-frequently from opposing political parties.
As a result, the executive branch is divided at the very top.
President Arroyo was originally elected as an opposition Vice
President. She was propelled into the presidency by a popular
revolt that deposed President Estrada. Many politically active
Filipinos, even those who helped unseat Estrada, were surprised and
concerned at the ease with which a constitutionally elected
President was tossed out of office. As a consequence, many
Filipinos, including former President Ramos, believe that
substantive constitutional reform is needed.
worse, the Philippine Congress is in a state of paralysis. The
House of Representatives passes many bills, which then stall at the
Senate. During the 12th Congress (2001-2004), 2,450
bills were filed with the Senate. Only 30 were passed into law, and
2,153 bills remain in Senate committees. This problem stems from
the way in which senators are elected. The Senate's 24 members do
not represent regions or provinces but are elected nationally for
six-year terms. Freed from the responsibility of answering to
constituencies and already experienced in managing national
election campaigns, senators, many accuse, ignore the legislative
process and spend their time running or preparing to run for
Because of these
systemic weaknesses in the Philippine polity, American policymakers
should not expect substantive improvement as a result of the 2004
elections. Rather, the President and Congress should focus efforts
to help the Philippines improve law enforcement and open the
economy to trade. The United States can, and should, offer legal
and constitutional assistance when asked, but ultimately it is the
Filipinos who must amend their constitution.
Dana R. Dillon is
Senior Policy Analyst in the Asian Studies Center at The Heritage