In the 18 months since the Filipino people brought her to power, President Corazon Aquino has had to contend with five different insurrections from within her armed forces. The latest such challenge to her authority has proved to be both the most serious and the bloodiest yet. Aquino survived because she was once again able to count on support from loyalists within the military. Significantly, though, that support did not come instantaneously--nor was it wholehearted. It took more than half a day after the mutiny was launched before major units of the armed forces decided to stand with their president and the constitutional democracy that she represents, rather than casting their lot with the mutineers.
With the rebellion put down, Aquino has angrily warned that she will move mercilessly in the future to crush any new resort to arms. No doubt she means to do so. It would be particularly encouraging now if she could be similarly tough when it comes to confronting other challenges. Increasingly it has become clear that Aquino's greatest fault, which is acknowledged even by many Filipinos who continue to support what she stands for, is her inability to act decisively in taking firm command over her government and in giving emphatic direction to what should be its necessary policies.
The result of this vacillation has been drift and inertia at the highest levels of governance, and rising frustration and bitterness on the part of the governed. A good part of the blame falls onto a cabinet that is noted more for its internal bickering than for its ability to agree on and pursue clear and strong measures. The ultimate responsibility, though, goes to the top. The perception that has grown, and nowhere more than in the military, is that of Aquino as a weak, uncertain and ineffectual leader.
Indecisive leadership cannot inspire the military in its assigned task to confront and destroy the Communist-led insurgency, now in its 18th year and apparently still growing in strength. Nor does weak leadership hold out much hope for the kind of economic and social change that would benefit the vast majority of Filipinos whose always-low standard of living has fallen so sharply in recent years. As it happens, enlisted military men and their families are among those who have felt the economic pain most severely. That fact was not absent from the motivations of those who took up arms against the government over the weekend. Aquino responded to this latest threat with vigor and firmness. What she must do from here on is display the same kind of decisive leadership so that her presidency can have a chance not just for survival but also for success.