Saturday, May 20, 2006

Goverment and Political Situation in the Philippines

In a process that's part religious festival, part circus, the president of the Philippines is elected directly by the people for a six­ year term. The Philippines national government is based on a relatively young, constitutional, US-style model, headed by a president and vice-president. The political engine room is Congress, made up of a Senate (or Upper House) with 24 members and a House of Representatives (or Lower House) with 250 members. The nation's 77 provinces are grouped into 16 local government regions (including the national capital region of Metro Manila), with each region administered by a council. Each province is headed by a governor, a vice-governor and usually two board-members. Each province is made up of municipalities or towns, which in turn are divided into social units or village commu­nities known as barangays. The barangay is the common political and social denomina­tor of the Philippines

The Philippines Flora

The country's flora includes well over 10,000 species of trees, bushes and ferns, most of which are endemic to the Philip­pines. In spite of uncontrolled tree-felling in the 1980s, the islands of the Philippines are still covered with around 10% tropical rain­forest, an impressive statistic for Asia. By a curious twist of fate, many forests -in Min­danao, Negros, Samar and Bohol owe their continued existence to the presence of in­surgent armies. As well as stands of mag­nificent giants and rare tree ferns, over 900 species of orchid contribute to the astound­ing variety of jungle flora.

Important cash crops include coconut palm, rice, corn and sugar cane, as well as many different kinds of tropical fruits in­cluding durians, rambutans and lanzones. One crop unique to the Philippines is the pili nut, which is used in confectionery, ice cream and even soap production. It's har­vested from May to October, mostly around Sorsogon in South Luzon. The pretty yel­low flowering narra is the national tree of the Philippines, but the unofficial national tree is surely the nipa palm, which lends its name and timber to the traditional nipa hut found in villages and many tourist resorts all over the country.

Ecology and the Environment

Before 1900 most of the land in the Philip­pin> was densely forested. A mere century later, half of this forest is gone. The battle to save what's left of the upland forests has begun, through indigenous land rights claims and new conservation policies, but there's stil1.enormous pressure on the gov­ernment from both domestic and foreign land interests.

The Department of Environment & Nat­ural Resources (DENR) is charged with wrenching the country's resources out of corporate hands and into community-based projects. Various attempts to rejuvenate de­graded forests have been plagued by unchecked introduced species and poor management, and in some cases degraded forests have simply been degraded further. New strategies for these areas include 10­calised sustainable management programs, natural resource mapping and taking the ad­vice of indigenous experts.

With a coastal ecosystem stretching al­most 20,000km, the Philippines is likely to become one of the earliest global victims of rising ocean temperatures. Centuries-old coral is dying almost overnight. This is fur­ther exacerbated by short-sighted activities, made all the more lethal by foreign funding, such as cyanide and dynamite fishing.

Another marine disaster is the uncon­trolled harvesting of seashells. Most of the tropical shells for sale around the world are harvested in the Visayas, and many species are rushing headlong towards extinction.

Geography of the Philippines

The Philippines comprises more than 7000 islands and islets - depending on the tide ­which follow the edge of the Pacific plate. Together, they make up a land area of about 307,000 sq km, 94% of which is on the second largest islands.

Most of the Philippine islands are vol­canic in origin, something that becomes ob­vious when you look at the mountainous landscape. Other areas, such as the E1 Nido region of Palawan, consist of ancient coral reefs that were uplifted by tectonic activity. There are numerous active volcanoes in the Philippines - Taal Volcano and Mayon V o1cano, both in Luzon, have had signifi­cant eruptions in recent years.

History of the Philippines

The remains of a skull found in a cave in Palawan, dubbed 'Tabon Man', date the earliest inhabitants of the Philippines back at least 22,000 years. Historical theories postulate that the Philippines was populated by waves of mi­grants from mainland South-East Asia, who are the ancestors of present-day Philippine's indigenous tribes.

The first recorded Chinese expedition to the Philippines was in 982. Within a few decades, Chinese traders were regular visi­tors to towns along the coast of Luzon, Min­dom and Sulu, and by around 1100 travellers from India, Borneo, Sumatra, Java, Siam and Japan were also including the islands on their trade routes by the warlike Chief Lapu-Lapu on Macta

A prominent figure who fought against the Spanish colonization of the Philippines, was Jose Rizal. Jose Rizal was excuted in 1896 for inciting revolu­tion. A brilliant scholar, doctor, writer and poet, Rizal had worked for independence by peaceful means. His death galvanised the revolutionary movement, marking the be­ginning of the end for the Spanish.

With aid from the USA, which was al­ready at war with Spain over the island of Cuba, the revolutionary army of General Aguinaldo was able to drive the Spanish back to Manila. American warships defeated the Spanish fleet in Manila Bay in May 1898, and the independence of the Philip­pines was declared on 12 June 12 1898.

Unfortunately for the revolutionaries, America's friendship turned out to be only a stepping stone towards the complete domination of the Philippines. In a bloody and little-acknowledged take-over, most of the revolution's heroes, as well as countless Filipino civilians, were killed by invading American troops. Once entrenched, the Americans set about converting the na­tives into carbon copies of themselves, pro­moting American habits, American sports and, most importantly, the English language.

The American presence, or 'tutelage', in the Philippines was always intended to be temporary, however, and the first Philip­pine national government was formed in 1935, under the guidance of the colonial governors. Full independence was pencilled in 10 years later. This schedule was dramatically inter­rupted by WWII, when the Japanese mili­tary took over the islands. The Americans sustained heavy casualties before finally overcoming the Japanese during the bloody Battle for Manila in 1944. At the close of the war, independence was granted in 1946, though America continued to playa significant economic and political role in the fate of its former colony. The most visible sign of this influence was the vast American military presence at Subic Bay Naval Base and Clark Field Airbase.

Self-governance proved a mixed blessing for the Philippines. The American-pattern electoral system was open to spectacular abuses. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s the Philippines bounced from one party to another (usually similar) party under a string of ineffectual presidents until Ferdi­nand Marcos was elected in 1965.

In 1972, in response to a flagging econ­omy, Marcos declared martial law, which soon became total control. Although previ­ously widespread violence was curtailed, the Philippines suffered from stifling cor­ruption and the economy became one of the weakest in an otherwise booming region.

The 1983 assassination of. Marcos' op­ponent Benigno 'Ninoy' Aquino pushed op­position to Marcos to new heights and further shook the already tottering econ­omy. Marcos called elections for early 1986 and for once the opposition united to sup­port Aquino's widow, Corazon 'Cory' Aquino. Both Marcos and Aquino claimed to have won the election, but 'people power' rallied behind Cory Aquino, and within days Ferdinand and his shoe-loving wife Imelda had slunk off to Hawaii, where the former dictator later died.

Unfortunately for Aquino, the coalition supporting her was an uneasy one and she failed to win the backing of the army and other former pro-Marcos elements. She also failed to quash the New People's Army (NPA), which was pushing for a communist revolution; and the Moro National Libera­tion Front (MNLF), fighting for indepen­dence in the south. In 1992 elections, the people replaced her with Fidel Ramos, a one-time ally of both Marcos and Aquino.

Although he had no support from the Catholic Church, the Protestant Ramos was able to secure the ailing energy sector, encourage foreign investment and, in a sur­prise move, even lifted the ban on the Com­munist Party in an attempt to end the guerrilla war draining the resources of the country. This policy seemed to be vindicated in 1996 when a peace agreement was signed with the MNLF.

In 1998, with critics baying for blood and all the same old economic problems pretty much unchanged, Ramos was swapped for the former vice-president and B-grade movie actor Joseph Estrada, who immedi­ately promised to redirect government fund­ing to help fight for the rights of the long­ neglected average Filipino. Sound like an over-the-top movie script? Welcome to the Philippines.

Unfortunately for the masses, President Estrada was most concerned about the rights of one particular Filipino, namely himself! After two years of economic decline, accu­sations of cronyism and soaring fuel prices, Estrada was impeached for accepting mas­sive sums of money from illegal gambling cartels, which, perversely, were also funding the nation's ambulances. Average Filipinos took matters into their own hands on 20 Jan­uary 2001, overthrowing the president in a bloodless uprising largely coordinated by mobile phone. Estrada was replaced by Vice-President Gloria Macapagal Arroya, who had cleverly distanced herself from the sinking Estrada administration.

With almost half the cabinet also impli­cated, impeachment proceedings against Estrada were promptly dropped, but lawyers have continued to fight to bring the 'actor ­president' to trial. Under Philippine law Estrada could face the death penalty for the crime of plunder, the illegal accumulation of more than P50 million.