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New Doubts Emerge on Aquino Rule : Erosion of Support Among Philippine Middle Class Seen

September 21, 1987|MARK FINEMAN | Times Staff Writer

MANILA — In Makati, a Manila business district that has been the bedrock of popular support for President Corazon Aquino, the hottest item was a T-shirt bearing the words: "I voted for Cory. Now I'm sorry."

At the Makati Stock Exchange, where last month's attempted coup against Aquino had fueled a bullish period ("you always buy low when there's blood on the streets," one broker said), there were long lunches and long faces as the price of shares began to plummet.

And throughout the city, in bars and five-and-dime sari-sari shops over the weekend, almost everyone was asking, "Will Cory Aquino survive?"

"There is no question that the situation right now is extremely serious," said William Esposo, a political analyst who formed part of a group of advisers who helped bring Aquino to power last year.

"This is the biggest challenge of her 18 months in office, and the most dangerous sign right now is the middle and upper classes getting disappointed. That's her base--her bedrock--and they're starting to lose faith in her. She's got to work to win them back. She's got to immediately begin a process of purification. Very simply, the president must begin to govern."

Saturday night's slaying of prominent leftist leader Leandro Alejandro served to deepen Aquino's crisis. Alejandro was the second influential leftist slain in the last year. Communist guerrillas have responded by killing officials, among them Jaime Ferrer, a member of Aquino's Cabinet who was slain last month, and stepping up attacks on military units.

Alejandro's slaying, blamed by most Filipino analysts on ultra-rightist factions either in or out of the military, indicated to most Filipinos that Aquino is increasingly powerless to deter violence, weakening her popular image even more.

Light Turnout at Rally

On Sunday, fewer than 5,000 Manilans responded to a call from the president's moderate political coalition to assemble for a "peace rally" under a large yellow banner declaring "Support Civilian Supremacy." The rally was held on the boulevard outside the two military camps where hundreds of thousands of Filipinos backed Aquino during the revolt that drove Ferdinand E. Marcos from power.

Aquino--now keenly aware that she faces her gravest threat since taking office in February, 1986--did try to act decisively last week, her critics said, perhaps for the first time. She removed three controversial aides from her Cabinet, among them her irascible and unpopular executive secretary, Joker Arroyo, whom many Filipinos called "the little president" because of his vast power and his great influence over Aquino.

"He was her crutch," said Speaker of the House Ramon Mitra, a strong Aquino supporter who is emerging as one of the nation's most influential moderate forces. "She proved she can fire people close to her."

But now, according to Mitra and other political leaders, Aquino must prove that she can stand on her own, despite the chaos.

Never before has distrust been so high between the civilian government and the armed forces. Never before have so many been affected by the battered economy. And never before have the Philippine people been so worried that a wrong move could deliver their democratic government into the hands of the armed forces or the Communist insurgents.

The ultimate irony, according to senior government officials, military experts and business and Roman Catholic Church leaders interviewed during the present crisis, is that at a time when three opposition forces have created shadow governments, there has been virtually no government in Manila.

According to both critics and supporters of the president, Aquino and her advisers--preoccupied with military uprisings on the right and insurgents on the left who have gained a foothold in 68 of the country's 73 provinces--have failed to provide basic government to the nation's 58 million largely impoverished people.

"President Aquino has spent so much of her time balancing herself against the forces of the left and the right that her tendency has been to stay all the time in dead center, where nothing happens," said Blas Ople, an opposition political leader who for 18 years was minister of labor under Marcos.

"What we have is a chronic stalemate, and as a result you have only two highly organized power centers in the country--the armed forces of the Philippines and the Communist Party of the Philippines, along with its military wing, the New People's Army," Ople continued.

"So what we are seeing now is a symptom of the internal breakdown and deterioration of the Aquino government as a buffer between these two far more powerful forces. We believe the process is irreversible--barring, of course, future miracles."

The signs of government paralysis are evident nationwide, and political and business leaders blame it on the people Aquino has chosen to advise her.

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