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Laurel Breaks With Aquino, Quits Key Post

September 17, 1987|MARK FINEMAN | Times Staff Writer

MANILA — Philippine Vice President Salvador Laurel broke all political ties with President Corazon Aquino on Wednesday, resigning "irrevocably" as foreign secretary because of what he called "a fundamental disagreement" with Aquino on how to combat the Communist insurgency.

Laurel, who retains his elective position as vice president, also charged that Aquino has consistently barred him from the government's decision-making process and reneged on promises she made in December, 1985, when the two agreed to run on the same ticket against Ferdinand E. Marcos last year.

Laurel's unexpected announcement to a jammed press conference apparently forced Aquino into announcing a handful of Cabinet changes Wednesday evening, just four days after she had publicly declared that she would not announce Cabinet changes in stages.

She named Deputy Foreign Minister Manuel Yan, a retired general, as acting foreign secretary to replace Laurel.

In a 15-minute nationally televised statement, Aquino also tried to counter Laurel's accusation that her government's counterinsurgency program is ineffective and discriminates against the armed forces, charges that echoed those made by leaders of an Aug. 28 coup attempt.

The entire Cabinet offered its resignation last week to give Aquino a free hand in trying to recover from the gravest political crisis of her 18-month-old administration. A revamping of the Cabinet is viewed by most political analysts and Filipinos as the key to solving the crisis and averting another serious coup attempt.

The most significant change the president announced Wednesday was the firing of Finance Secretary Jaime Ongpin, a highly regarded corporate technocrat who was among Aquino's initial key supporters and financial backers.

Aquino, who relied heavily on Ongpin in her quest for the presidency, recently has told close aides that she is unhappy with the debt-renegotiation agreement that Ongpin secured earlier this year from the more than 400 foreign banks holding the nation's $28-billion debt.

Ongpin also has been an outspoken critic recently of Aquino's closest aide, Executive Secretary Joker Arroyo. Aquino's most influential backers have put heavy pressure on her to fire Arroyo, arguing that the military believes he is a leftist and that unless he goes, it will attempt to overthrow her government again before the end of the year. The president gave no indication Wednesday whether he also will be dropped from the Cabinet.

Named to replace Ongpin was Vicente Jayme, who has been secretary for public works.

Aquino named to her Cabinet a recently retired soldier, Maj. Gen. Salvador Mison, as customs commissioner to replace longtime Arroyo supporter Alexander Padilla. Mison is highly respected in the military as scrupulously honest, but many junior officers have criticized his combat record and questioned his closeness to the Aquino government.

Aquino's press spokesman, Teodoro Benigno, said other Cabinet changes will be announced today.

Wednesday's most dramatic news, though, was Laurel's angry resignation as foreign secretary, which followed an emotional, two-hour meeting at Malacanang palace among members of the country's two most powerful political dynasties--the Laurels and Aquinos.

During the meeting, Laurel said, he reminded Aquino of a private conversation they had in December, 1985, during which Laurel agreed to step aside and let Aquino run for president because: "You said if I would give way and I agree to run for vice president, you said you would let me run the government because you had no experience. You said you would allow me to be prime minister, and I believed you."

Laurel was appointed prime minister when Aquino hastily formed her government amid the February, 1986, rebellion that drove Marcos from power. But four hours later, Aquino abolished the position, and, ever since, Laurel said, "I have been like a spare tire."

Laurel gave examples of his many disagreements with Aquino. He said he had proposed enforcing a one-year moratorium on labor strikes, but the president rejected it. He said he proposed forming a presidential commission to investigate the Philippine foreign debt, then spent six months leading it, only to have Aquino disband the panel when the month-old Congress set up a similar committee.

And he said, two days after the recent coup, he urged that a high-level, nonpolitical commission look into military unrest, which Aquino also rejected.

"It makes me feel frustrated," Laurel said, adding that on the day of the coup he telephoned the president five times volunteering his help but was rebuffed.

Laurel reserved his harshest criticism for Aquino's handling of the Communist insurgency, which has claimed more than 2,000 lives this year alone.

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