Deadly Philippine mudslide underscores need for reform
After mourning the deaths of mudslide victims on Leyte island, Filipinos are celebrating the 20th anniversary of "people power."
AS Filipinos mourn the deaths of as many as 1,800 people in a sea of mud that buried a village on Leyte island, they also prepare to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the "people power" that drove dictator Ferdinand Marcos from the presidency. Charges of corruption and malfeasance associated with the mudslide show that the uprising did not result in national prosperity and stability. Those might come only with a parliamentary system of government.
Greenpeace issued a report last November that climate change would "aggravate the misery of an already overburdened Filipino community." In January, the environmental group warned further that abnormal weather and "destructive logging" would "wreak havoc" unless "concrete steps" were taken.
Policies were in place to avert the disaster and villages were evacuated, but illegal logging continued despite a decade-old logging ban. The New York Times reported that the Philippine government knew as early as last May that the village of Guinsaugon was in danger. Government corruption, ineffective laws, and a lack of money and political will to enforce the laws contributed to the mudslide, government officials and environmental groups told the Times.
Meanwhile, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo was scheduled today to lead a four-day celebration of EDSA 1, named after the Manila street where crowds demanded that Marcos step aside to allow Corazon C. Aquino to assume the presidency, which she had won by election. The assassination of her husband, Sen. Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino, three years earlier had propelled the uprising.
Aquino reportedly is not invited to the celebration, although she led the demonstrations that unseated Marcos, who died in Hawaii in 1989, and prevented her successor, Fidel Ramos, from changing the constitution in 1998 so he could remain in office. She also led the protests -- called EDSA 2 -- driving former film star Joseph Estrada from the presidency in 2001 and calling for the resignation of Arroyo, accused of rigging her re-election in 2004.
Arroyo has vowed to remain in office until her term expires in 2010. "The world will not forgive an EDSA 3," she says, "but instead would condemn the Philippines as a country whose political system is hopelessly unstable, and the Filipinos as among the finest people in the world but who manage to shoot themselves in the foot."
Ramos has called for replacing the U.S.-modeled presidential system with a British-modeled parliament, which could replace the government at any time without chaos on EDSA Street. Arroyo favors the change, perhaps in response to Ramos' support in 2004. Trying to delay it until her term ends carries the risk of continuing the instability that Arroyo denies exists.