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New Philippine Congress Likely to Back U.S. Bases

May 15, 1987|MARK FINEMAN | Times Staff Writer

MANILA — President Corazon Aquino's sweeping victory at the polls this week has brought to power a largely conservative national legislature that is likely to protect the future of America's two large military bases here and take a hard line against the nation's armed Communist insurgency.

The Filipino voters, who turned out in record numbers to show their support for Aquino's congressional candidates, also rebuffed the first attempt by the political left to gain office by election since the 1940s.

And, despite a potentially violent protest campaign by Aquino's principal opponent, ousted Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile, the generally peaceful and credible elections have driven yet another pillar of stability under Aquino's embattled 15-month-old government.

Final official results have yet to be tabulated in the voting for a 24-member Senate and 200-seat House of Representatives. But reliable independent tallies make it clear that the outcome was also an enormous personal victory for President Aquino.

"Call it 'Cory magic,' " Aquino's exuberant press secretary, Teodoro Benigno, declared this week as the results showed all but one or two of Aquino's handpicked 24-member senatorial slate winning in the at-large election.

An analysis of results in the Senate race confirms that Aquino was the biggest single factor in the election.

Aquino had barnstormed the country for nearly two months, pleading with voters to cast their ballots for all 24 of her candidates and promising that a healthy opposition would emerge from within her politically mixed coalition slate.

The moderate-right opposition, which challenged Aquino with a conservative coalition slate led by Enrile, had charged that Aquino was making the same error as the now-deposed President Ferdinand E. Marcos, who ruled for two decades through a combination of a cult of personality and dictatorial powers. And, appearing at a rally Thursday night outside a Manila military camp, Enrile again charged that the government had won by cheating.

"When you look at the results, though, it's pretty clear that a huge majority believed Cory and simply voted straight ticket," said Paul Aquino, the president's brother-in-law and national campaign chairman for her "people power" coalition. "The voters know Cory. They know she's not Marcos."

Sees Victory for Center

But political analyst Amando Doronila concluded Thursday that the election was not only a victory for Aquino but for the "forces of the political center" as a whole.

"The rout of (Enrile's) Grand Alliance for Democracy . . . and the exclusion of the left from the Senate disclose the strength and depth of the center tendency in Philippine politics," Doronila said.

"And if the center is showing great strength in these elections, it is because it has been swelled by conservatives who find comfort in the shift to the right of the Aquino government, especially its intensification of the counterinsurgency campaign."

Paul Aquino insisted, however, that the ruling party's Senate--a largely ceremonial body whose greatest power lies in its authority to approve or reject foreign treaties such as the agreement on U.S. military bases--will, as the president promised, have a built-in opposition.

Three of its members--Wigberto Tanada, Augusto Sanchez and Sotero Laurel--"will definitely be for total abrogation of the U.S. treaty," Aquino said. "On the other side you have (Ernesto) Maceda, who will say, 'Let's just give it to the Americans.' And the rest of them will say, 'Let's see the money. Let's see the color of the money.' "

The bilateral agreement that permits the United States to maintain Clark Air Base and Subic Bay Naval Base north of Manila, Washington's largest military facilities outside North America, expires in 1991. President Aquino has pledged to honor the agreement; negotiations on the future of the bases are to begin next year.

May Alienate Right, Left

In winning so sweeping a victory, though, Aquino risks alienating the forces of both the extreme left and the extreme right. Those are the most heavily armed groups in the country, and neither believes it is represented in the new legislature. In the short term, Aquino may face a wave of street protests similar to those in Marcos' final years.

Campaign director Aquino and other top presidential aides, as well as intelligence sources in the Philippine military, conceded that Aquino already is paying a political price for her landslide victory. And that price may go up in the coming weeks, if Enrile enlists support for his protest within the armed forces.

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