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Healing Enrile 'Scars' : Ramos Faces Philippine Military Rift

November 27, 1986|MARK FINEMAN | Times Staff Writer

MANILA — Before dawn broke over Manila on Wednesday morning, Gen. Fidel V. Ramos was out in his jogging shorts, leading the commanding general of the Philippine air force and hundreds of his key pilots and wing commanders on a four-mile run through the nation's main air base.

Ramos, 59, the armed forces chief of staff, likes to jog with his men. It builds unity and discipline, he says. But on Wednesday, in the wake of Ramos' preemptive weekend operation that neutralized military support for Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile and cleared the way for his firing, the jog around Villamor air base took on added importance.

Enrile Had Wide Support

If it had come down to a military showdown between Ramos and Enrile last Sunday, as Ramos himself feared it might, reliable sources now say much of the air force almost certainly would have sided with Enrile--as would many other key military commanders. And Wednesday's early-morning jog was symbolic of the task of internal healing now facing Ramos within a 200,000-man Philippine armed forces still reeling from nine months of internal trauma.

Despite the contention by President Corazon Aquino's aides this week that the alleged military plot to topple her government involved just "a very small, infinitesimal group within the military," there was in fact large and far-reaching military support for the ousted defense minister, whose elite security force has been blamed for the rumored plot that Ramos said triggered his preemptive strike.

As one military analyst described Ramos' action, "The general performed a delicate surgical operation to remove Enrile--a friend of both Ramos and the entire military. After any major surgery, it takes time to heal the wounds, and there's always the threat of complications."

2 Were Allies in Revolt

Adding to those complications, Ramos' operation was the second major convulsion in the Philippine military this year. In February, Enrile and Ramos were allies in marshaling dissident forces within the military to rebel against Ferdinand E. Marcos in the Roman Catholic Church-supported coup that drove Marcos from power.

When Aquino took over the government, Enrile has said, he and Ramos controlled 80% of the armed forces, and both men have spent much of the past nine months trying to integrate the remaining 20%, the so-called Marcos loyalist forces, into the mainstream military.

In the weeks leading up to the Saturday night operation, though, senior commanders and enlisted men found themselves forced once again to reassess their loyalties amid waves of rumors that Enrile's forces were plotting against the government--with or without Ramos' support.

Ramos, an excellent poker player, never took sides as the rift widened between President Aquino and Enrile, who publicly criticized many of her policies. But most commanders and outside military analysts assumed that Enrile and Ramos were ideological allies--Enrile the loud critic and Ramos the quiet, constructive voice in the president's ear.

Now, with Enrile out and his internal security force on the run after a military action in which Ramos clearly took a stand against a man he once said was "a partner for all time," a new set of what Ramos has called "cracks and cleavages" in the military's "ship of state" must again be mended.

Senior military sources cited that healing process in explaining why the military encouraged Aquino so firmly to sign a temporary cease-fire with the Communist rebels--to give the armed forces a break from 17 years of battle that Ramos and his top commanders can use to reunite the armed forces.

"Any time an institution has gone through the trauma that this one has, there are some wounds that have to be salved," said one senior Western diplomat in Manila. But the wounds, he added, are primarily "just remedial scar tissue," and he and other analysts suggested that the military now has a golden opportunity to unify and depoliticize itself for the first time since Marcos declared martial law in 1972.

Ramos, who is again being cast as a national hero this week for his role in excising Enrile and shoring up Aquino's young government, will not comment on the divisions. He has not spoken in public, and he has announced that he will not grant any interviews for at least two weeks. That policy, too, is part of the general's post-surgical treatment.

Portrayed as Hero

"Just leave us alone for a while," the general told one American journalist Tuesday night. "There's still a lot of work to be done."

The concern is that the more Ramos is venerated in public, the more embittered Enrile's military supporters will become, and the deeper the lingering divisions within the military will be.

Already, Ramos, a respected, West Point-trained professional, has become a new target of the dissident groups remaining in the military. On Tuesday, a rumor campaign began suggesting that Ramos would resign his post to become the new minister of public works.

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