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Republic of the Philippines, Recent Developments

Estrada administration, central Mindanao, Macapagal-Arroyo, prosecution team, military offensive

Ongoing peace negotiations with the MILF collapsed in 1999 when President Estrada adopted an all-out-war policy against all rebel groups. The military offensive displaced approximately 600,000 people in central Mindanao. By this time, more than 120,000 people were estimated to have died during the three decades of ongoing hostilities between Muslim rebels and the Philippine government.

Meanwhile, the Estrada government faced a downturn in the economy brought on by the Asian financial crisis of 1997. This was compounded by a drought that negatively impacted agricultural output. The government sought to take steps toward fulfilling its promises to alleviate poverty and undertake land reform and agricultural development. At the same time, it needed to reassure the business community that it would continue the economic reforms that the two preceding administrations had pursued.

A major focus of the Estrada administration was “food security,” which involved agricultural modernization and major infrastructure-development projects. Despite its rhetoric, however, the government did not make much progress in implementing its “pro-poor” platform. The opposition became more outspoken in its criticism of Estrada, and his administration became embroiled in allegations of cronyism and corruption. The corruption allegations led to Estrada’s impeachment by the House of Representatives in November 2000. His trial in the Senate was suspended in mid-January 2001, however, after the prosecution team resigned to protest the suppression of evidence. Thousands of Filipinos then took to the streets of Manila to demand Estrada’s resignation; however, Estrada retained strong support among the urban and rural poor.

Meanwhile, Vice President Macapagal-Arroyo formed a strong opposition alliance, the United Opposition, within the government. The massive demonstrations, resignation of most of the president’s cabinet, and loss of support among top military officials led to Estrada’s ouster on January 20, after the Supreme Court declared the presidency vacant. Macapagal-Arroyo was immediately sworn in as president.

Early in her presidency, Macapagal-Arroyo declared a suspension of offensive military operations against the MILF and pursued a policy of reconciliation with the group. In August 2001 the two sides signed a cease-fire agreement, and peace negotiations continued with Malaysia acting as intermediary. The government meanwhile continued its military crackdown on the secessionist Abu Sayyaf, which was linked to terrorist activities such as kidnappings and bombings. In the 2001 legislative elections, Macapagal-Arroyo won a popular mandate to govern the country when candidates she had endorsed won control of the Senate.

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