COVER

LEADERS IN A BOLD ACT

PEETER KOPVILLEM March 3 1986
COVER

LEADERS IN A BOLD ACT

PEETER KOPVILLEM March 3 1986

LEADERS IN A BOLD ACT

COVER

They are longtime friends and allies, and tried veterans of the unsavory political manoeuvring that has shaken President Ferdinand Marcos’s government in the 2½ years since the assassination of popular opposition candidate Benigno Aquino. But last week Lt.-Gen. Fidel Ramos, deputy chief of staff of the Philippine armed forces, and Defence Minister Juan Ponce Enrile, sat calmly in the glare of the television lights and announced that they were resigning their positions to support Marcos’s opponent, Corazon Aquino. Explaining that the election had been fraudulent and that Marcos no longer enjoyed the support of the people, the two key military leaders called for the president to resign. With that bold stroke they became heroes to millions of Filipinos.

Corrupt: For many Filipinos, the outright defection of Ramos—possibly a longtime covert supporter of Aquino—was a characteristic action. As acting military head from October, 1984, to December, 1985—while chief of staff Gen. Fabian Ver was on leave after being indicted along with 24 other officers for the August, 1983, murder of Benigno Aquino—he initiated reforms in the corrupt and inefficient armed forces. Among them: disciplinary action against officers and enlisted men suspected of abuses.

Ramos still managed to remain popular even after soldiers fired on 5,000 demonstrators in Escalante on Negros Island last September, killing 20.

But many Filipinos said that they were surprised by Enrile’s conversion. The 62-year-old defence minister, a 1955 Harvard law school graduate, joined the government as financial undersecretary in 1966—the year that || Marcos became president. By 1970 he had assumed the defence portfolio. In fact, Enrile was a firm Marcos supporter who on occasion defended the president against charges of corruption. Said Ramon Solevilla of the Canadian Campaign for the United Opposition (Philippines): “He was a brilliant lawyer and a very honest man before he was perverted by Marcos.”

But in recent years Enrile has displayed signs of becoming more liberal. For one thing, he was sympathetic to military reform, and he was known to be opposed to some of the excesses of power

protecting the country’s constitution. Last year he told a Manila business meeting that he would favor legalizing the Philippine Communist Party if such an action would draw insurgents and

carried out by Marcos in the name of

dissidents back into the polical mainstream. Said Enrile: “Military effort alone cannot solve the problem.”

Some Filipinos have said that the defence minister’s tempered rhetoric was a result of his presidential aspirations. Indeed, as government stability deteriorated in the wake of Aquino’s assassination and rumors of Marcos’s ill health increased, Enrile was often mentioned as the president’s successor. He made no secret of his political ambition—and observers say that Ramos supported him. But many Filipinos add that both men had been consistently shunted aside as Marcos began to rely more heavily on Ver.

Reforms: Indeed, at a caucus meeting of Marcos’s New Society Movement in January, 1985, the president’s wife, Imelda, publicly humiliated Enrile. At that meeting the defence minister outlined the alarming growth of the Communist New People’s Army and added that new measures were necessary to curb further growth of the guerrilla movement. The president’s wife, herself a potential successor to her husband, responded, “If these facts are correct, there was a failure in the ministry of defence for the past 15 years.”

The 57-year-old Ramos had been deputy chief of staff and head of the Philippine Constabulary—the country’s powerful domestic paramilitary force—until 1983. At that time Marcos disbanded some of the force’s units and placed the rest under the command of Ver. And during Ramos’s 14-month tenure as acting chief of staff, he complained that he was not given the power to carry out the reforms that he desired. After Ver was acquitted and reinstated last December, Ramos went back to his job as deputy chief of staff—a largely ceremonial position. Said the United Opposition’s Solomon Exmundo of both Ramos and “Their hand was forced by

-PEETER KOPVILLEM with

AUGUSTA DWYER

CHARLES ROWLAND

in Toronto and correspondents’ reports