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Despite Joy, Philippine Unity Shows Signs of Fraying

March 03, 1986|NICK B. WILLIAMS Jr. | Times Staff Writer

MANILA — Nothing could take the joy away from Sunday's victory rally by President Corazon Aquino and the crowd of hundreds of thousands representing what they have come to call People Power. But as a new week began, the first with Ferdinand E. Marcos in exile, small threads already showed at the edges of the carpet of unity that covers the Philippines.

In her first five days in power, Aquino made two important moves: the appointment of a Cabinet and the release of political prisoners. The latter was in the spirit of People Power, a quick, daring dismantling of the oppressive apparatus of Marcos. In Manila, only a few in the military expressed qualms.

Appointments Questioned

But in their moment of victory, even some Aquino supporters questioned her appointments to the Cabinet and other high-level positions. In the halls of new-found power, there was a scent of "politics as usual."

No decision was more controversial than the retention of Jose B. Fernandez as governor of the nation's Central Bank, made on the recommendation of Aquino's new finance minister, Jaime Ongpin. A band of protesters gathered outside Aquino's temporary offices--her campaign headquarters at the Cojuangco Building in the Makati district of Manila.

Many had been employees or depositors of Banco Filipino, shut down in part on the advice of Fernandez, a Marcos appointee. Other critics pointed out that Fernandez's voice was not heard publicly when Marcos lavished treasury money on his recent presidential election campaign.

Aquino spokesman Rene Saguisag called the demonstration "a healthy sign that democracy is working."

On the Cabinet appointments, regionalism--meaning politics as usual in the Philippines--quickly raised its head.

Assemblyman Homobono Adaza, representing Misamis Oriental province on the big southern island of Mindanao, complained bitterly that Mindanao did not get a fair shake.

"The people of Mindanao who constitute more than a third of the nation deserve fair representation," he said, noting the lone exception, Aquilino Pimentel, the new minister of local governments.

Adaza had been highly visible in the Aquino campaign, particularly in resisting Marcos' proclamation of his election victory in the National Assembly. His pique may have been based on personal ambition, but he was not alone in questioning Aquino's Cabinet choices.

Many of the new ministers were close associates of her late husband, assassinated opposition leader Benigno S. Aquino Jr., or advisers in her campaign. As in Marcos' Cabinets, few are authorities in their fields. None, not surprisingly, are natives of the northern Ilocapo provinces, the Marcos stronghold.

At a lower level, the mayoralties of the nation's 1,529 towns and cities, a brush fire of resistance was sparked when Pimentel, as local governments minister, asked the incumbents, nearly all members of Marcos' KBL party, to resign.

Terms Ending

Although the exact date is disputed, depending on which election code is being cited, the mayors' terms end this month, in any event. But even before that, Pimentel moved to replace them with officials supportive of the new administration.

Local elections were scheduled for May, but Aquino has set them aside for now and declared that she will appoint local officials instead.

Almost to a man, the mayors of the four cities and 13 towns of metropolitan Manila refused to step down. "I had to act fast," Pimentel said, rejecting the mayors' charges of "dictatorial tendencies." But on Sunday, he backpedaled, ordering all local officials in the nation to stay put until consultations are held on how to replace them.

In the Makati, the business district of metropolitan Manila, the dispute over the mayoralty revealed another point of dissension. The mayor, Nemesio Yabut, a strong-arm stalwart of Marcos, died of heart failure the day that his leader fled the country.

Upon Yabut's death, Pimentel's party, the PDP-Laban, which formed the core of Aquino's early supporters, appointed lawyer Jejomar Binay as officer in charge of the city. At the same time, UNIDO (United Nationalist Democratic Organization), the party of Vice President Salvador (Doy) Laurel, elevated Makati Vice Mayor Johnny Wilson. "Doy's not supposed to do that," said Aquino spokesman Saguisag, somewhat forlornly.

The Aquino-Laurel ticket was a shotgun wedding from the start. Laurel finally gave up his ambitions for the opposition nomination but only on condition that the ticket run under his UNIDO banner rather than under PDP-Laban. Throughout the campaign, there were complaints from both sides that the ticket lacked coordination.

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