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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, March 1, 2006

Philippine democracy must be restored now

Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's state of emergency may stop just short of martial law. But her quick curtailment of freedoms is too close for comfort in a democratic nation modeled in the image of the United States.

If the situation lingers and constitutionally protected civil liberties are not quickly restored, the legitimacy of Arroyo's government will be harmed beyond repair. And it will seem that her heavy-handed measures were done simply to silence her loudest critics.

Arroyo's actions may have been justified in stopping an attempted coup from within the Philippine army last week, considering there have been 12 such events in the last two decades. Dozens have been arrested, including key army generals.

But Arroyo's interpretation of her emergency power has led to arrests without warrants, including arrests of several of her outspoken political opponents, limits on freedom of assembly and restrictions on the press. One newspaper was raided over the weekend. Other media organizations have been warned not to report anything negative, or risk reprisal.

In shutting down civil liberties in this manner, Arroyo is walking a precarious line between preserving national security and damaging democratic principles. And she risks being seen as a leader whose main interest is in maintaining her political power, at all costs.

Arroyo continues to face critics who allege she fixed the 2004 presidential election. And though she survived an impeachment attempt, her approval rating is falling fast.

She's already hinted there will be no end to the emergency until the Philippine Supreme Court rules on its legality.

But delay only emboldens her opposition. If Arroyo wants a real chance at winning back the hearts of Filipinos, democracy must be restored as quickly as possible.

If that doesn't happen soon, she will take her place in a long line of Philippine leaders unable to rise above politics and lift the quality of life for all Filipinos.