By James B. Goodno
Manila's massive malls usually provide respite from the city's heat and pollution, especially during the hot, dry spring. These days, however, the crowds stay away, afraid of being the next victims of a series of bombings that has swept the Philippines.
The sparsely populated shopping centers have become a symbol of a deepening political crisis. After years of inching toward stability, the Philippines' fragile democracy is in danger. Bombs have exploded in malls, airports and bus terminals. Kidnappings and warfare are ripping apart the south. Complaints of corruption and cronyism at the highest levels of government have resurfaced. And confidence in the government of former actor Joseph Estrada has collapsed. "He is the worst calamity that ever hit the nation," says Popoy Lagman, leader of a militant labor federation.