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Rivals Sworn In; U.S. Urges Marcos to Quit : Reagan Seeks to Prevent a Civil War

February 25, 1986|ELEANOR CLIFT | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — President Reagan called Monday for President Ferdinand E. Marcos to resign after learning that the besieged leader was readying a possible attack on a military camp held by opposition forces demanding the end of his 20-year rule.

"Attempts to prolong the life of the present regime by violence are futile," White House spokesman Larry Speakes said in a statement authorized by Reagan. "A solution to this crisis can only be achieved through a peaceful transition to a new government."

The White House is willing to provide a plane to fly Marcos out of the country and, if he should ask, to grant him asylum in the United States, Reagan Administration sources said.

Marcos went ahead with plans for his inauguration todayfor a six-year term as president and called on Philippine citizens to go to Malacanang Palace to defend him.

Pushing for Resignation

Asked if the Administration wanted to see Marcos step down before his inauguration, Speakes said, "We're trying to precipitate it as quickly as we can."

Reagan's statement ended the United States' 20-year relationship with Marcos. Only 12 hours before, Speakes had said that Reagan did not have the right to ask Marcos to resign. A White House official said Reagan's dramatic reversal in position was an attempt to head off a bloody civil war.

A Marcos attack on the opposition stronghold "could lead very rapidly to civil war, and no one wanted that to happen," the official added.

He noted that Camp Crame, the national police headquarters occupied by the rebels, is situated in a Manila suburb and has been surrounded by thousands of civilians who have turned out to show their support for former Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile and Lt. Gen. Fidel V. Ramos, leaders of the rebellion, and to protect the soldiers inside from an attack by forces loyal to Marcos.

'Firing on People' Feared

"We didn't want a situation where the Philippine government was firing on its own people," the official said.

Word that Gen. Fabian C. Ver, the armed forces chief of staff and key Marcos loyalist, appeared to be planning an attack on the camp reached the White House around 4 a.m. EST Monday. Chief of Staff Donald T. Regan and John M. Poindexter, the President's national security adviser, awakened him at 5 a.m. to advise him of the developments and to get his authorization for the statement calling on Marcos to step down.

"It was our determination there was the possibility of additional violence in the Philippines, attacks by the government" on the rebels, Speakes said. "So we thought it was important we issue a strong statement."

Enrile and Ramos have declared that opposition leader Corazon Aquino was the legitimate winner of the Feb. 7 presidential election, but the White House statement pointedly withheld U.S. blessing for Aquino.

"A transition government would be something the Filipino people would have to make that decision on," Speakes said. "The future of the Philippine government is in the hands of the Filipino people."

The President also decided to send special envoy Philip C. Habib back to Manila on Monday night to resume consultations with the government and the opposition, although his agenda was not spelled out. Habib had returned to the United States from the Philippines on Saturday.

Speakes said that Reagan regards Marcos as "a longtime friend and ally" and is willing to do what he can to ease his departure from power and avert further bloodshed.

Another official drew a parallel with the recent situation in Haiti, where the Administration sent a military C-141 plane to fly the deposed Jean-Claude Duvalier to a safe haven in France.

The Administration had indications beginning last Thursday, Speakes said, that a rebellion led by Enrile and Ramos, the former deputy chief of staff of the armed forces, was brewing.

And a spokesman for Sen. Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said that U.S. officials may have tipped off Enrile that Marcos was planning to arrest him--thus precipitating the rapid sequence of events that culminated with Enrile and Ramos publicly breaking with Marcos and barricading themselves at Camp Aguinaldo, the headquarters of the Defense Ministry.

They later moved to Camp Crame, across the street from Aguinaldo, after deciding the former would be easier to defend.

Enrile has said that he learned about Marcos' plan to arrest him and Ramos on Saturday morning and immediately called the general to launch their revolt. He has refused to say how he learned of the arrest plan, adding that he acted with no specific assurance of backing from the United States.

"We only depended on our perception that the United States is a fair country," he said.

Enrile and Ramos resigned their government positions Saturday and since then have been protected by sympathetic troops and thousands of civilians mobilized by the Roman Catholic Church.

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