INTERVIEW: On the elections and a life of activism
(Exclusive Interview with Dr. Carol P. Araullo)
These are quotations taken from a one-on-one interview with Dr. Carol Pagaduan Araullo, chairperson of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan or BAYAN (New Patriotic Alliance), global vice chair for internal affairs of the International League of Peoples’ Struggle (ILPS), and head of other prominent social activist groups in the Philippines. The Philippine Reporter conducted the interview in the BAYAN office in Quezon City on April 8, 2010.
On the Arroyo Regime’s Failure-of-Elections Plots Underway:
Dr. Araullo: People have pinned a lot of hope on the coming elections; particularly that Pres. Arroyo will be out by the time her term ends.
The May elections are complicated by the fact that the incumbent regime has no intention of stepping down. There is a lot scheming and maneuvering being done in order to perpetuate Mrs. Arroyo in power. That includes engineering a failure of elections, even a partial failure, so that the proclamation of the President and Vice-President Elect will not take place.
There may be a problem with the constitutionally mandated line of succession, who becomes the head of government. When the president can no longer rule, the Vice President takes over. If the VP can’t, then it’s the Senate president. If the Senate President cannot, it’s the Speaker of the Lower House of Congress.
It so happens that Mrs. Arroyo has been in power for so long, on June 30, 2010 when her term ends, the terms of other government officials, who occupy the positions in the line of succession, also end. So, if nobody is elected as President and VP, by the time Mrs. Arroyo’s term ends, there will be a vacuum. It’s not clear who is mandated to take over.
There is a huge suspicion, that Mrs. Arroyo will engineer such situation that there is no President Elect that can be proclaimed, and so a holdover, transition government will have to take power. And she, being the one in power, will continue.
The “muscle” to back the schemes
Dr. Araullo: The military and the police will be convinced to support this kind of holdover government of Mrs. Arroyo. The consolidation of Mrs. Arroyo’s hold over the military by the appointment of the former Head of the Presidential Security Command to be the Head of the Armed Forces of the Philippines provides the muscle that will legitimize this Arroyo holdover, and her consolidation of power by her hold on the Supreme Court.
The stacking of the Supreme Court
Dr. Araullo: All of the Justices are her appointees. And now she has been able to extract a Supreme Court decision allowing her to appoint the next Chief Justice by the time the current one retires, even though constitutionally she is barred from doing that… thereby consolidating her hold on the Supreme Court. Now why is that important? Because all legal questions about the legitimacy of such a holdover government will eventually land on the doorstep of the Supreme Court.
If she can get legitimization legally, and she can get the armed forces backing her up, de facto, she will remain in power. All these hopes of getting rid of Mrs. Arroyo and having a new leadership, new policies and programs, maybe running after her liabilities in terms of all the corruption scams and human rights violations, all of that will be dashed, if they are able to successfully engineer that kind of a scenario.
The deliberately sloppy elections automation
Dr. Araullo: Why is that scenario so possible? The automation of the elections for the first time. The elections in the Philippines are so complicated; you’re also electing Senators, Governors, Mayors, and Councilors. If I’m not mistaken, you’re electing more than 15,000 positions to be filled…
The automation of these elections is being carried out in a such a sloppy, hurried, incompetent way, that it’s becoming more and more clear that this blundering is not happening in a spontaneous fashion, but is being deliberately undertaken to create a confused, disorganized, chaotic elections come May 10, which the Arroyo regime will opportunistically use in order to bring about their desired scenarios.
Arroyo as Prime Minister
Dr. Araullo: I think in the medium term, the Arroyo clique is looking towards maneuvering to change the Constitution from a presidential to a parliamentary one, and her running for a Congressional seat in her hometown will assure her being a Member of Parliament should such a shift take place. Then she will legally be in a position to seek the position as Prime Minister under a Parliamentary system.
So see how Machiavellian, the plots that are being played out… That elections mean new government, that’s not necessarily so. There are far too many high stakes in these elections that are prompting all of these vested interests to move.
Dr. Araullo: Of course, there will be resistance in such case because they will have to utilize emergency powers and maybe even declare martial law. There will be resistance because I think that is what the people plotting the scenario are underestimating, the kind of outrage, the unified resistance that will be provoked by such a move. It will be up to the organized groups, the political forces, and the leaderships of the opposition from the left to the right of the political spectrum to lead what we anticipate to be a very public and sweeping revulsion against the Arroyo cliques’ attempts to perpetuate themselves.
Life as an Activist in the Philippines
On continuing the fight:
Dr. Araullo: Philippine society, the social disparities, the oppressiveness, the exploitation, they haven’t changed much; they have only changed for the worse. So, the reason for persisting in being an activist and fighting for national and social liberation exists.
Even at the height of the extrajudicial killings, disappearances, and being arbitrarily arrested on trumped-up charges, it never occurred to me to stop because to stop would be to betray what I believe in.
On her activism past and present:
Dr. Araullo: Forms of activism have been adjusted to take into account things like age, health considerations, responsibilities as a wife, and in the home… I’m an activist still, but I’m not the one actually making the placards and other protest paraphernalia.
There are many young people coming forward so the movement doesn’t get old or irrelevant. The older activists get to store up on a lot of experiences and lessons, and there is someone to pass them on to. The young people take up what the older cannot do, and in that way the movement is alive and kicking and will go on long after we are gone.
On the difference between activism and advocacy:
Dr. Araullo: Sometimes these terms that are appropriated by media ends up diluting the essential meaning of what activism is all about and what organized people who are underprivileged and who are marginalized and struggling and fighting, and resisting, and who are on the march, are all about.
For one thing, they are not civil. Many times they are uncivil because they are resisting. So that’s my take on that, about advocacy, activism, civil society, and people’s and mass organizations.
On how the masses can influence change in Filipino society:
Dr. Araullo: We [in BAYAN] are great believers, and we practice what we preach, in arousing, organizing and mobilizing the people who are the bottom of the social pyramid, the oppressed and exploited people. We believe their liberation lies in their hands.
First off, they need to unshackle their minds from all the deceptive garbage, all of the false explanations for why they are poor, oppressed and exploited, then they have to understand what the causes are, who they can expect will be on their side and who, against them.
Political awareness doesn’t come in one sitting. There is a cycle of understanding, education, taking action, and learning your lessons from engaging in the struggle to protect your rights, advance your aspirations, oppose government policies, and push for certain policies. You learn lessons from when you win and lose.
And from that you organize people to continually build their strength in an organized way. Poor people, their only strength is in their numbers, and numbers can only be transformed into a political force that is significant if that force is organized.
On achievements of people’s resistance movements:
Dr. Araullo cited four significant victories.
• Overthrowing the US-backed Marcos dictatorship in 1986.
• The Anti-Bases Struggle and the successful booting out of the US bases from the Philippines.
• Ousting of the Estrada Regime in 2001.
• Human Rights Movement thwarting Arroyo’s counter insurgency program producing powerful national and international campaigns. This achievement is not unqualified though, since no one in the military or government has ever been successfully prosecuted and punished.