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Cloud Over Manila

November 09, 1986

Fragile is the word that naturally springs to mind whenever anyone thinks about the Philippines' newly restored democracy. The description is unavoidable, for the effort to reestablish a popular government and revive a crippled and corrupted economy remains very much in the testing stage as President Corazon Aquino confronts the legacy of long and despotic misrule. It is a time of great consequence in the nation's history. Why, then, do prominent political figures, led by Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile, seem so determined to undermine this delicate structure by continued attacks on Aquino's political legitimacy? Certainly it is not out of any love of country or respect for democratic institutions. Let it be seen instead for what it is--a lust for power.

Under the draft constitution that the Filipinos will vote on next year, Aquino would be given a six-year presidency. By any fair measure she earned it, outpolling now-deposed dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos in the presidential election last February that Marcos and his henchmen--Enrile was then one of them--tried so clumsily to rig. But Enrile does not want to wait six years to make his own run at the presidency. He is calling for an election next year--in effect asserting that the job ought to be rightfully his, since without his last-minute defection from the Marcos camp Aquino's "people power" revolution would have been crushed by the military. He probably has a point, but that point is vitiated by his own acknowledgment at the time that he broke with Marcos out of a motive no nobler than that of saving his own skin.

Enrile's efforts at sabotage are helped by Aquino's own vulnerability. She is a political novice who has not always been well served by her advisers, she seems often to dither when she should be decisive, she is prone to romanticizing "people power" rather than facing head on the tough political and economic issues that she inherited. For all that, she remains her country's chosen president--clearly recognized and firmly supported by the United States, among others. Enrile would have it otherwise, but the Philippines simply can't afford the further political instability that he is encouraging. That message can't be delivered too often.

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