The Philippine ruling class is facing a very real problem. Every section of it is hungry for the implementation of savage neo-liberal measures — but nobody is at all sure who can get away with forcing them through.
Arroyo has cut government spending, privatised some state services and put up taxes for the poor. About a quarter of the workforce is unemployed and nearly half the 88 million population lives on less than $2 a day.
Such moves have stoked deep unpopularity and social turmoil, especially in the capital Manila. The ruling class is caught between the need to cut living standards in order to increase profits and the fear that such measures will cause widespread revolt.
This dilemma, which is faced in one way or another and to different degrees by rulers across the world, is worsened in the Philippines because there is no easy alternative to Arroyo.
Vice-president Noli de Castro, a former television journalist, is generally viewed as a lightweight. Fernando Poe Junior, a former film actor who stood against Arroyo in the last presidential election, died at the end of last year. It is a sign of the desperation in elite circles that his widow is being touted as a possible president.
In the last two decades Cory Aquino, Fidel Ramos, Estrada and now Arroyo have all failed. There is such a wide gap between the elite and the masses that it is very hard to “sell” neo-liberalism, or to mobilise any support for a new president.
There are two essential conditions for revolution. The first is that the working class decides it cannot stand going on as at present. The second is that the ruling class loses confidence in its own ability to rule as before, splitting and quarrelling among itself.
These conditions are perhaps maturing today in the Philippines.