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Poverty and War Linger, but Leader Is Entrenched : Filipinos to Mark 2 Years of Aquino Rule

February 25, 1988|MARK FINEMAN | Times Staff Writer

MANILA — Two years after the popular rebellion that overthrew President Ferdinand E. Marcos, the Philippines remains a nation where lingering poverty, corruption and war have left its citizens with little to celebrate.

Today, the country celebrates the second anniversary of the government that took over after Marcos' ouster, and among the festivities will be a daylong, government-sponsored fiesta, Roman Catholic Church observances, disco concerts and a laser show.

However, today also opens a new era for President Corazon Aquino: She can now devote less time to defending herself and more to running the country.

This is the judgment of independent analysts, government officials and businessmen who, in the last few days, have been publicly assessing the state of the nation. It is an era, they agree, of pragmatism and in some cases downright cynicism, as post-rebellion exhilaration and hope have been submerged in poverty and violence.

But for Aquino, who concedes that "getting rid of the dictator" is still her chief achievement, it is the beginning of an opportunity to transform Philippine society.

Aquino, many analysts agree, has finally emerged as the nation's undisputed leader, a newly powerful president who can now begin bringing real change to her country in her final four years in office.

Just as the rebellion marked the end of nearly two decades of harsh rule under Marcos, the analysts indicate, the anniversary marks the end of a turbulent era of attempted coups and assassinations that took hundreds of lives and nearly drove Aquino from office.

But she has not only survived the treacherous post-Marcos era; she has managed to do it unscathed by scandal and unharmed by many reported assassination plots. Moreover, although the Communist insurgency continues, the country now seems ready to enter an era of relative political and economic stability.

Consolidated Forces

After putting down at least six attempted coups, Aquino has consolidated her forces in the military, which triggered the rebellion that brought her to power. And her military commanders apparently have succeeded in neutralizing a faction that threatened her government for more than a year.

"We have weathered the storm, and we are seeing the dawn of a new era," said Defense Minister Fidel V. Ramos, the only military leader involved in the 1986 coup who is still a member of Aquino's administration.

Col. Gregorio (Gringo) Honasan, who became a national hero for his role in the 1986 revolt but then led an attempted coup against Aquino last August, is now in military custody.

Aquino's forces filed criminal charges this week against nearly half a dozen other officers identified with Honasan, placing them under house arrest and barring them from attending this week's festivities. Most of them also took part in the 1986 revolt.

The arrest orders grew out of the killing, more than a year ago, of leftist labor leader Rolando Olalia. Aquino's military leaders now blame Honasan's men for his death.

Aquino's military commanders were intent on shifting the anniversary's focus from the 1986 military revolt on Feb. 22 to Aquino's ascendancy to the presidency three days later. They even barred the foreign press from covering an anniversary Mass on Monday evening that was organized by Honasan's wife and supporters of former Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile.

Enrile, a foe of Aquino and now a member of the Senate, attended the Mass but said he will boycott the government's celebration today.

Amando Doronila, a political analyst, said that "in a broad historical sense, the crackdown on this (opposition) group illustrates the continuing cannibalism of the 'revolution,' which has already gobbled up several of its leading actors."

The government's handling of the military dissidents is proof, Doronila said, of how effectively Aquino has consolidated her support and made her government virtually "coup proof."

"But it is not yet time to be confident that stability will endure," he went on. "The revolution has not yet run its course, and it can turn on its other leaders."

Many analysts have used the anniversary as an occasion to assess the state of their country. Almost unanimously, they have concluded that the 1986 rebellion, which Aquino calls a "revolution" and a "miracle," was neither. Some top Aquino aides agree.

Citing the bloodshed that has occurred in the years since, Aquino's secretary of health, Alfredo Bengzon, said: "This is all part of that same revolution. We're continuing to pay the cost that we would have paid if there were a civil war (in 1986) but with much less loss of life.

"We're still walking a narrow plank," he added. "We're out of the operating room, but we're still in the intensive care unit. Following the analogy, though, you have got good stuff in the patient. You've got good protoplasm and good genes.

"But, of course, things can still go awry."

Among the angrier assessments was that of Luis Beltran, a columnist and former Aquino supporter.

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