detail from Labels for Hair Ribbons by Manuel Ocampo a delectable selection of oriental appetizers
Wednesday, February 07, 2001

: . Walden Bello, from the February 19 issue of The Nation (sorry, his piece is not available from The Nation site): “Crime and corruption are prominent features of governments the world over, but in a ‘normal’ state, the sources of corruption are forces that subvert the machinery of government from without; the Mafia is not indigenous to the government. In the Philippines, on the other hand, the Mafia is the state…The main project of the Estrada administration was to centralize crime under the presidency. Under Estrada, the most profitable criminal activities like jueteng (an illegal numbers game), were to be rationalized, with a bureaucracy stretching from the president to the smallest jueteng collector, paralleling and intertwining with the formal hierarchy of government…The worlds of prostitution, drugs and kidnapping were on their way to becoming equally centralized. Had the Estrada project not been disrupted, the president would have become the apex of both the state and the underworld.”

Bello explains that ‘the Estrada project’ only brought to a new level of refinement a practice engaged in by Filipino politicians for decades. Bello also cautions us that the new Macapagal-Arroyo administration, also tainted with jueteng-related scandal, may well continue ‘the Estrada project’ with GMA presiding as Godmother literally and metaphorically over the Mafia-state. Indeed, GMA could well represent an unholy development in Philippine politics. Late last year news broke that GMA agreed to act as godmother during the baptismal ceremony of jueteng lord Bong Pineda’s child. When asked by Asiaweek why she had participated in such a ceremony, knowing full well that some may assume that she has personal ties with the Pineda clan and their criminal syndicate, GMA replied that she was only fulfilling a ‘Christian duty’ and that she had the blessing of no other than the Archbishop of Manila himself who said that ‘the sin of the father is not the sin of the child.’ While the heads of Filipino Christian cults lay their prayerful hands over GMA and while Cardinal Sin acts as confessor to known felons I’m afraid that the Church may have joined in the big bingo game of corruption in Philippine government. Also, I’m afraid that we have spent too much time wagging our fingers at the ‘traditional’ crimes like gambling and now kidnapping committed by Filipino politicians that we have lost sight of other crimes much less easy to condemn but much more nefarious in their social effects. Take the liberal, free trade schemes endlessly spun as the only rational remedies to Philippine ills. The greatest failing of the Aquino, Ramos and Estrada administrations have been their all too eager acceptance of Washington, World Bank and IMF terms which promised to bring prosperity to the Philippines but brought misery to Filipinos instead. In the fifteen years since the fall of Marcos, Philippine presidents have prioritized the repayment of foreign debt, the liberalization of the economy, and the privatization of state industries over land reform and the alleviation of poverty. Now we have an economist as president, a true Clinton-schoolmate, who, Bello reminds us, “led the fight to ratify the Uruguay Round establishing the World Trade Organization in the Senate.” We can only wonder what degree of suffering GMA's crusade will bring. At least, to our minds, she has commited no sin.

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