It’s crazy time in the Philippines

Gloria okays troops in poor neighborhoods in Manila says the headlines.

The Good news: this will increase security for the holidays and elections, and will bring with it health clinics and civic improvements, while discouraging NPA cells from establisihing themselves in urban areas. The NPA is a long established communist “insurgent” group in Luzon, mainly in farming areas.

The Bad news: The troops could intimidate people as they did here, where we had not only checkpoints on the roads but door to door searches and checks for “tax certificates” to weed out outsiders. It also expands the possibility of corruption: think bad cops in the USA.

The government is asking for a Holy Week truce between the army and the NPA, and so things should quiet down around here. However, the threat from Alqaeda remains, and unlike the NPA they don’t care if they kill a lot of innocent poor people, so with holiday traveling and large gatherings, the police will be busy trying to prevent a repeat of previous bombings of ferries, markets, malls, and church processions.

Indeed, one of the reasons the police are so angry at the so called “hostage crisis” last week, where a man held a busload of preschoolers for ransom, was the danger of copy cat crime, not to mention that it pointed out some weaknesses in the police handling of the situation.

Our relatives passed the place by the crowds at the so called “hostage crisis”, and said they thought it was just a rally, and no one seemed too upset. The families still aren’t too upset: some of the parents back the hostage taker, saying he really cares about their children…and don’t want the hostage taker jailed. But the police chief is angry about the whole thing, and some of the police in charge were fired for letting a couple local politicians just walk through police lines and enter the bus to “negotiate the children’s realease” as if there was no danger…indeed, the rumor is now that the whole thing was not a publicity stunt to protest poverty but a publicity stunt arranged by the politicians, prompting todays’ April Fools joke: that a man pasted himself to a chair of the president…because he wants to take over the “seat of power”…

Personally, I doubt the rumors are true, but my acquaintances just shake their heads and tell me I am naive. Here politics is played “hard ball” style that makes Chicago politics look like amateur hour. For example, in an article about a politician assasinated in Quezon City yesterday, the newspaper blithely wrote: “…Rabaya was considered the first congressional candidate killed at the start of the campaign period…”

Well, technically that’s true. You see, the campaign period only officially opened a couple days ago, so murders from last week or last month don’t count…

It’s election time here, and things get crazy. There are signs pasted on all the blank walls of smiling politicians with their names and nicknames written in large letters (Since many politicians come from the same families, often they are known by their nicknames, like Dondon, Mikey and Joker. My favorite is a local politician named “Gay”). And of course politicians make sure they garner support by sponsoring parades and parties for the graduating seniors, supplying flowers to decorate churches, and paying for free health clinics…

But campaigning here will not start in earnest until the winter crop of rice has been harvested and dried, which is one or two more weeks. After all, we live in the country, and the harvest comes first.

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Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines. Her website is Finest Kind Clinic and Fishmarket.

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