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Wednesday, 26 November 1986
Page: 2790


Senator McINTOSH(4.05) —We are discussing a country which is still in a great state of flux. There are obvious hazards in trying to write a report about a country in which great changes are in progress or where conflict remains unresolved. The report we are considering today, the report of the Joint Committee of Foreign Affairs and Defence titled `Australia and the Philippines', faces the danger of being outpaced by events as the sacking of Mr Enrile from the Aquino Government over the weekend indicates. To be fair, the report is necessarily tentative on a whole range of possible future events. The overthrow of the Marcos Government without significant loss of life was indeed a very remarkable event. But there were no illusions, especially among the Filipinos, that the problems and prospects facing them would be automatically resolved.

The only real change that occurred with the overthrow of Marcos was that there was an increase in the range of possible paths to resolving the breakdown of the economy-rising poverty and the abuse of power and privilege. The Philippine society had become increasingly polarised under Marcos. Not only was there elite dissatisfaction with his rule, but a broad range of opposition groups, including the New Peoples' Army rapidly gained increasing support as agents of change. While the NPA, which is essentially based in rural areas, is not represented in the Aquino Government, broad based movements, some sharing common ground with the NPA, do have connections into the support base of the Government. Difficult as it might be, there still is an opportunity in the Philippines for Filipinos to steer a course which reflects the basic interests of the majority of the people and which moves towards eliminating the fundamental economic problems there. Such a course would need to have the support of bodies such as the NPA to have any chance of succeeding. This report is biased against such a course.

I found the report's treatment of the NPA and other Left groups as almost one of derision. This is not surprising. At the outset of the report it is made clear that there are only two possible outcomes in the Philippines. It either retains its alliance with the West or it is hostile to us. The report does not suggest that there may be some other path. From this base the Committee then finds no problem in coming down on the side of the Philippines' military and recommending continued Australian military aid. It might not be much aid, it probably is not very much at all, as the report shows, but such a recommendation is a highly symbolic expression of which side we should take. I believe it is the last thing we should be doing while Filipinos are involved in a process of determining which direction their country should take. The events over the last week seem to indicate that the Aquino Government is increasingly dependent on the armed forces under General Ramos. The report's account of the Philippines armed forces I felt was inadequate. Coverage was given to much needed reforms within the military, but no detail was given on the depth of its ties with, and support from, the United States of America. Given the US interests in the Philippines, this is no small matter. I think we should have given a bit more consideration to that. We should remember that Marcos lost US support not because he was a corrupt dictator but because he had failed to keep the lid on the opposition to his rule. That was his fault. He was corrupt, but I do not think that was the main reason for his fall.

Overall I found the report disappointing. I endorse the comments made by Senator Bolkus in his dissenting report. Having read his report, I feel that it contains a lot that is important and I hope that, some time next year when the Parliament resumes, he will be given the opportunity to expand on his views. I also endorse other comments that have identified the Cold War thinking that underlies the whole report. I earnestly hope, for the sake of the Filipino people, that the situation in their country does not deteriorate to the point where the West finds it necessary to intervene to convince the people that we know what is best for them.