Philippines President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is in trouble.
The political situation in her island nation is in crisis. Her popularity ratings have dropped into the low teens. “People power” demonstrations break out regularly in Manila. She recently survived an alleged coup attempt.
Arroyo appears to have given up on convincing her constituents of her competence. Instead, she has resorted to the methods many dictators use to silence criticism.
The Reporters Without Borders Web site says that 52 reporters who covered the Philippines have been murdered since 1986, and 42 of the cases remain unsolved. The Committee for the Protection of Journalists says that 22 have been murdered since 2000, making the Philippines the most murderous country in the world for journalists over that period.
The April 5 edition of The New York Times carried a story that alleges intimidation of the press by security forces in the Philippines. Members of the Philippines press corps in Washington confirmed a campaign of oppression and said at least one of them had been directly intimidated and had property confiscated by the Philippines military.
Elsewhere, Philippines troops surrounded a TV station on the islands for more than a week recently to punish negative reporting.
No one claims that President Arroyo ordered or knew of any of the killings of reporters. But government foot-dragging when it comes to apprehending the killers is unacceptable for a country that receives such large amounts of American aid.
Meanwhile, the United States continues to prop up the Arroyo regime. Indeed, it bestowed more aid on the Philippines in 2006 than the year before.
But as a close observer of foreign policy on Capitol Hill said recently, there is a “growing awareness in Congress about the deterioration of the rule of law in the Philippines.” That awareness extends to the White House, where debate continues over whether President Bush should meet with President Arroyo.
In a stunning display of Orwellian “doublethink,” Arroyo wants to convince policymakers that her illegal and unconstitutional suppression of journalists actually serves to preserve the constitution and rule of law.
Congress and President Bush must show her that this “logic” doesn’t fly here, and that this goes for all allies in the global war on terror.
Instead, Congress and President Bush should review the security assistance provided to the Philippines and ensure that accountability procedures are followed and American-provided equipment and aid is used properly.
We have a carrot to offer. Arroyo desperately wants a visit with President Bush to shore up her shaky political situation at home. We should tell her to get serious about apprehending those who kill journalists and about preventing intimidation of the press. If she does, we can discuss a presidential visit. But not before.
Dana R. Dillon is a senior policy analyst in the Asian Studies Center at The Heritage Foundation.