WORLD

Aquino in a cross-fire

LIN NEUMANN December 1 1986
WORLD

Aquino in a cross-fire

LIN NEUMANN December 1 1986

Aquino in a cross-fire

THE PHILIPPINES

From the left and the right, the political pressures on Philippine President Corazon Aquino built up remorselessly last week. More than 100,000 leftists, including several members of the outlawed Communist party, marched openly in a funeral procession for slain labor leader Rolando Olalia and his driver in Manila. At the same time, armed forces chief of staff Fidel Ramos advised Aquino in a letter to rid herself of left-leaning cabinet ministers. And evidence mounted daily that some groups were attempting to destabilize Aquino’s nine-month-old government. On Nov. 15, two days after Olalia’s murder, Japanese businessman Nobuyuki Wakaoji was kidnapped. And on the 19th, gunmen ambushed a car outside the capital, killing conservative politician David Puzon, his driver and his lawyer. On the same day a bomb exploded in a crowded Manila department store, injuring 35 people. Fighting for the beleaguered political centre, Aquino declared in a televised address, “We shall never be slaves again, not to the Communists who did nothing to help us recover our democracy as we understand it, nor to the sad remnants of the right wing who hanker to be our masters again.”

But Aquino was hard pressed to appease detractors at both ends of the political spectrum who said that they disapprove of her policies. To ease pressure from such right-wing critics as Defence Minister Juan Ponce Enrile who favor a full-scale military assault on the Communist rebels, the president last week placed a Nov. 30 deadline on government attempts to reach a ceasefire in the 17-year-long insurgency. For their part, the Communists, who broke off talks after Olalia’s brutal torture and murder, expressed concern that Aquino would not be able to defend the country’s fragile democracy against a right-wing resurgence led by the military. By week’s end right and left alike were calling for action from the presidential palace. “There is a climate of fear,” said an Enrile supporter. “Cory has got to crack the whip. This country is going down the tubes.”

Olalia’s funeral procession last Thursday became a bold celebration of the country’s leftist organizations. Taking more than two hours to pass any one point along a 16-km route, the procession appeared to be the largest leftist demonstration ever held in the streets of Manila. And it was the largest funeral march since Aquino’s hus-

band, Benigno, was murdered in 1983.

For three Communist delegates to the ceaselire negotiations who live in hiding when not at the bargaining table, the Olalia funeral pro vided a rare taste of freedom. Marching within a cordon of secu rity guards, Carolina tVlalay said: "Oh, this is fantastic. This is the first time I have been cut in the public like this in 15 years." In a speech to the massive crowd, Nick Elman of the May 1st Movement, the 500,000-member utnion that Olalia had Led, promised that the Left would peacefully help Aquino dismantle `the remnants of fas ism" in the Philip pines. And Olalia's wid )w, Feliciana, appealed or calm. "We should

control our emotions," she said. "Otherwise the forces of evil shallprevaiL"

But Aquino seemed prepared to respond to concerns that her government was taking on a leftist tone. There were signs that the letter from Gen. Ramos suggesting governmental changes could soon claim its first victim: Aquino’s executive secretary, Joker Arroyo. The former human rights lawyer has been the frequent target of rightist attacks for his liberal views. According to presidential spokesman Teodoro Benigno, Aquino was considering curtailing Arroyo’s powers. Still, Aquino was unlikely to allow the military to totally dictate her government’s policies. She admitted that her government “could really be more effective,” but added: “The cure cannot possibly be something as extreme as a [military] coup. Democracy was never meant to be easy.”

Despite her tentative steps to get tough with the left, the marchers at Olalia’s funeral still appealed for the president’s support. In a letter to Aquino, the murdered union leader’s family warned against “belligerent extreme rightists.” And the letter added, “We therefore appeal, Madame President, that you draw your strength from the masses at your doorstep.” Should she choose to ignore the appeal, which seems likely, the next time Manila’s far left takes to the streets they may be in open defiance of a president who is finding hard political realities closing in around her.

LIN NEUMANN in Manila