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IN THE PHILIPPINES: ESTRADA AND AFTER.

INTERVIEW WITH WALDEN BELLO

Walden Bello is the director of Focus on the Global South, and Professor of Sociology and Public Administration at the University of the Philippines. He was involved in the Estrada Resign movement. This interview was recorded a few days before Estrada's resignation.

DG Why is President Estrada being impeached?

WB Well I think the main accusation against him is for graft and corruption. Specifically this impeachment process stems from accusations that he actually received what you might estimate to be a US$2 million cut from the proceeds of illegal gambling in the Philippines. So basically the main cause for the impeachment is for becoming a central point of collection for proceeds from illegal gambling. So along with that there is also the charge that he has taken a percentage of the tobacco excise tax, again which has been given to him by certain politicians that have access to the fund. There are a number of other issues that have to do with allegedly protecting his cronies or very big businessmen allied to him and giving them a lot of privileges. It's therefore a whole series of charges that have to do with political cronyism.

DG This wouldn't be anything new in the Philippines would it?

WB Well of course graft and corruption has always been a central part of Philippine life. At the same time I think that there are legal penalties for people that get caught in the process. What is new here is the allegations that sources of illegal wealth were being centralised under the president. I think this is what shocked people, that the top of the Philippine state was alleged to be benefitting directly from mafia criminal activities, I think this is what shocked people.

DG How severe is the level of government corruption and involvement in organised crime now in the Philippines compared to under the Marcos dictatorship?

WB I think that what you find in terms of the organisation of crime in the Philippines is that you cannot explain organised crime in the Philippines without the role of government official, whether legislative officials or bureaucratic appointees. Of course you've always had small-time crooks outside of the official structures but when you talk about the organisation of crime, officers of the military and top bureaucrats and key parts of the government bureaucracy have been involved in this process. The centralisation in both the government and the military under Marcos created tremendous opportunities for government officials to be able to squeeze the state of social surplus. I don't think that under Marcos you had what you consider criminal sources of wealth such as kidnapping and drugs or gambling. These were not central sources of Marcos's wealth. Basically Marcos got a lot of favours and squeezed businessmen in order to be able to donate significant parts of their wealth to him. I think what is new in Estrada is what are considered to be the domain of the mafia, which is drugs and gambling and kidnapping. These became very significant sources of wealth for top bureaucrats and for the president himself. So I think that's the difference from the Marcos regime.

DG The Estrada Resign movement has been organising massive nation-wide protests, civil disobedience and strikes. Has this been having much impact in the political process?

WB Well yes, throughout October and early November this was a fairly strong process which had the government on the retreat and forced the defection of many of the political allies of the president. It is tremendously resonant among the people, especially among the middle class. It is a nation-wide movement, protests are now co-ordinated throughout the country. The problem is that it's still largely a middle-class movement,and the people from the working classes and urban poor that are actively militant in the movement would still not be a majority. At the same time I think that people lost their hopes in Estrada many months ago, among the poor, precisely because of the fact that there's just been one scandal after another and the economic situation has also worsened for them. But having lost your trust that Estrada will deliver is very different from going out-into the streets to bring him down. A large number of poor people both in the countryside and in the city are still sitting this one out. I think that to some extent the success of the Estrada Resign movement depends largely on whether we can mobilise not only the middle class, not only the elite, but also the masses of lower-class people in the Philippines.

DG Do you think the Estrada Resign movement could be turning into a similar people power movement to that whichoverthrew Marcos?

WB Well I thought that that was the case before the impeachment. There was a momentum to that movement and I think if he had not been impeached, the popular anger would have grown to the point where he would have had to resign because there was no chance of governing the country. What happened though is that when the House of Representatives voted to impeach him and sent the impeachment' resolution to the senate, a lot of that momentum was lost. Now people felt that, oh the system seems to be working, why don't we wait and see if this impeachment process will in fact oust Estrada. That's where a lot of the energies have gone at this point in time. My worry is that the momentum of the movement is being dissipated by the conversion of people into spectators of this trial in the senate. It's not that easy to regain momentum. People who have been engaged in mass politics realise that momentum is not something you can just turn off and on. My worry precisely is that if he is acquitted, it will be very hard to get the momentum again in the short term to turn it into a people's power movement to oust Estrada.

DG Has the Catholic Church been speaking out?

WB Yes, the Catholic hierarchy has basically asked him to resign. Organised religion continues to be quite influentual in the Philippines, especially among the middle classes. So there's a polarisation between the catholic hierarchy and Estrada at present.

DG Are farmers and peasants in rural areas playing much of a role in the movement?

WB No. In fact there's a great deal of scepticism in Estrada. At the same time, they're not mobilising. Large numbers of them are sitting this one out because their big question is `elite politicians are all the same, Estrada is rotten and corrupt but what about his successor?'. They point to Gloria Macka, the vice president, and they point out that she's the godmother of the daughter of a gambling lord. So she has these friendship ties with a very important controller of illegal gambling in the country. So basically a lot of poor people are saying, how do we know, sure Estrada is a son-of-a-gun but this is the way all elite politicians have been. There is widespread popular cynicism about the elite leadership in the Philippines. They see this as a fight between elites.

DG How does the Estrada Resign movement react to this. Is there a popular alternative?

WB The progressive movement is a channel by which poor people and peasants can come into the movement. So I'm not by any means saying that poor people are in any way absent from the demonstrations. All I'm trying to say is that the poor people that are coming to the demonstrations are largely organised by the progressive movement, by the Left. That's very important because as this thing drags on it will be progressive groups that will make the difference in being able to mobilise large numbers of poor people when they finally get fed up with the fact that this guy's just staying there. So I'm not precluding the fact that, in the medium term, a lot of people in the lower classes will be transformed from passive spectators to active participants in a process to overthrow and get Estrada out. I'm just saying that at this point they're not yet there.

DG Where do you see Philippine politics in a year?

WB Well it's very hard to project that. I certainly think that the best scenario would be for Estrada to be out by the year's end. If he goes beyond that there could be a real stalemate. In about a year's time we could either have a stalemate that's continuing in which everything's deteriorating or you could have a situation in which he has been ousted by the popular movement and things are beginning to move up again. Or you could have a situation where the military has become a central actor because they have ousted Estrada. That would be the worst-case scenario. So I'd rather not project where Philippine politics will be in a year. I think it's a tremendously fluid situation.
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Title Annotation:college teacher Walden Bello
Author:GILBERT, DAVE
Publication:Arena Magazine
Article Type:Interview
Geographic Code:9PHIL
Date:Feb 1, 2001
Words:1497
Previous Article:ON NOT SPEAKING.
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