Posted by: Frederik Balfour on February 20, 2008
As I started reading last week in the New York Times that the Philippines was on high alert against a planned assassination attack against President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, my blood started racing. After all, we newshounds love nothing better than a crisis. But as I read on I soon realized that the alleged plot by terrorist factions of Abu Sayyaf rebels and Jemaah Islamiya may have had a lot more to do with discouraging people from showing up at demonstrations against alleged corruption under Arroyo planned for Feb. 16 as much as it did with attempts on the president’s life.
Though the protests went on as planned, the several thousands gathered weren’t the most impressive showing of People Power in a country where it’s generally pretty easy to mobilize a crowd. It has to make you wonder whether Filipinos are inured to corruption or whether the alleged incident where Chinese telecom network company ZTE was to pay up to $130 million to individuals including Arroyo’s husband Jose Miguel Arroyo seems too arcane for the man on the street. Or maybe it’s because no money actually changed hands, and the ZTE contract was scrapped last September after the scandal broke.
Although Arroyo is still feeling vulnerable while Senate hearings into the ZTE deal continue, few believe her administration is under serious threat.. Since being swept into power in 2001 after mass demonstrations deposed her predecessor Joseph Estrada, Arroyo has survived at three somewhat half-hearted attempted coups, the most recent last November when a couple of dozen disgruntled soldiers took over the luxury Peninsula Hotel in Manila for less than a day.