Thu, 31 Jul 2003

Arroyo must reform further

The world rightly and immediately denounced last weekend's mutiny launched by some 300 Philippine troops and junior officers who demanded the resignations of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and several heads in the military and defense department, alleging high-level corruption.

Although the 19-hour rebellion ended peacefully, the incident shocked neighboring countries in the region and reverberated far beyond Asia, revealing the shaky situation in the Philippines, a fledgling democracy that is actively fighting against the growing threats of international terrorism.

Any attempt to overthrow a democratically elected government is a blatant violation of international law and must be condemned whatever the pretext may be. The rogue soldiers should realize that even if their allegations are true -- that some government and senior military officers colluded with Muslim rebels and planned to impose martial law to avoid holding presidential elections next year -- the mutiny can never be justified.

We welcome the government's peaceful way of encouraging the rogue troops to return to barracks without a single shot fired as well as President Arroyo's pledge to bring "unity and reconciliation with justice". We also welcome her wise decision to set up an independent commission to investigate the incident.

With the Philippine government's security system already tainted by the escape of a notorious Muslim militant from custody a few weeks ago, the Arroyo administration must take firm measures against the mutineers and the people who helped mastermind the plot so as to prevent it from repeating.

The best way to achieve this is for Arroyo's administration to undertake immediate political and economic reforms and to stamp out collusion among government officials. Equally, the government must improve the welfare of the people, including the pay of soldiers who have risked their lives fighting the communist insurgents and Muslim separatists threatening the unity of the Philippines.

All this, perhaps, is best reflected in the words of the influential archbishop of Manila, Cardinal Jaime Sin: "No one won last Sunday. What is needed (by the Philippines) is immediate reform, firm discipline and a strong will to sustain it."