1987-2003: Reform and Rebellion
Reformers confront old problems and new conflicts.
The popular movement that helped topple Marcos spawned optimism
that a more democratic, autonomous era in Philippine politics
was beginning. A new constitution, ratified in 1987, was designed
to prevent a repeat of the abuses of the Marcos years. Clark Air
Force Base was closed after being damaged in the 1991 explosion
of Mount Pinatubo, and the naval base at Subic Bay was closed
in 1992 after the Philippine government rejected an extension
of the U.S. lease.
U.S. troops arrive at Clark Air Base in the Philippines, April 2003. Since 2002, the United States has sent hundreds of soldiers to the southern Philippines to support and train the Philippine army. The Philippine constitution prohibits foreign soldiers from fighting in the country.
However, the high-level corruption and the mass poverty of the
Marcos era were not so easily eradicated. President Corazon Aquino
and her successors inherited many of her predecessor's problems,
including the ongoing conflict with the NPA. Aquino declared "total
war" on the rebels, and the United States has continued to supply
and train the Philippine army. The NPA today is much weakened,
but negotiations remain stalled.
The southern Philippines, meanwhile, has become a flashpoint
for new hostilities. The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF),
which broke off from the MNLF nearly 20 years ago, continues
to fight under the leadership of a cleric named Hashim Salamat.
After massive military campaigns by the Philippine government
in Muslim areas, current president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo agreed
in 2001 to peace talks with the MILF. But the violence has not
abated. The Philippine government has accused the MILF of having
ties to the terrorist group that blew up a Bali nightclub in
October 2002 (although the MILF denies this). Currently, the
MILF is thought to have 12,000 fighters in its ranks.
Philippine President Gloria Arroyo
meets with Secretary of State Colin Powell, 2002. Arroyo
has pledged her country's support for the U.S. war on terrorism.
In turn, the Bush administration has offered military support
for the Philippines' ongoing battle against Muslim separatists.
(photo: Gabriel Mistral/Getty Images)
Concerned with possible links between various rebel groups and
international terrorists, the United States continues to support
the Philippine government's current anti-insurgency campaigns.
The U.S. government recently added the NPA to its list of terrorist
groups and also says that a smaller rebel group, Abu Sayaf, has
links to al Qaeda. Abu Sayaf split from the MNF in 1991 and made
its name by taking Filipinos and foreigners hostage on the islands
of Jolo and Basilan. Though Abu Sayaf claims to be fighting for
a Muslim state, MILF has distanced itself from the group.
In November 2001, President George W. Bush announced that the
United States would support President Arroyo's campaign against
Abu Sayaf. "President Arroyo understands now is the time to
make a stand against terrorist activity, whether it be in Afghanistan
or in the Philippines or anywhere else al Qaeda exists," Bush
said after meeting with the Philippine president at the White
House. American and Philippine troops have since conducted joint
training operations, and the United States has sent nearly 600
troops to the southern Philippines.
The Moro Islamic Liberation Front is
one of several insurgent groups fighting for a Muslim state
in the southern Philippines. To some Filipino Muslims, they
are freedom fighters. To the Philippine government, they
In light of the war on terrorism, the current American and
Philippine governments have played up their countries' "special
relationship." For more than a century, United States has been
the Philippines' largest donor and trade partner, and the Philippines
has long emulated American culture and politics. But the images
of American soldiers on duty are a reminder that the two countries
also share what has been an often bloody past. The new conflict
against the MILF and Abu Sayyaf raises some old questions: Will
the United States get caught up in another violent guerilla
conflict? Will the Philippine government sacrifice its democratic
gains to restore order? And what is the future of the close
yet conflicted relationship between the two countries?
Return to introduction
PREVIOUS - 1965-1986: The Marcos Years
back to top