Succession question in Philippines takes on added urgency
As concerns about his health and grasp of political reality grow, President Ferdinand Marcos is under heavy pressure to clarify the dangerously hazy issue of succession.Skip to next paragraph
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The President seems to be trying to maintain maximum leeway in the choice of a successor. His opponents, who include leading businessmen and ranking members of the President's own political machine, the KBL (Tagalog initials for the New Society Movement), feel this approach is a recipe for chaos.
They stress that the top priority since the Aug. 21 assassination of Benigno Aquino - which aggravated political uncertainty here and precipitated a financial crisis - is to restore foreign confidence in the country's prostrate economy.
The only way to even begin to do this, they say, is to have a clear-cut succession mechanism that ensures a swift transfer of power.
Many of them suspect the President's desire to keep things vague masks a plan to have his wife, Imelda, succeed him.
''And that,'' a senior executive warned, ''could finish off the economy.'' Most fear that any fumbling or confusion in the transfer of power could lead to a military takeover.
''The slightest hiatus in the succession system,'' a Cabinet minister warned, ''will strongly tempt certain people in the armed forces.'' The minister refused to say who might be tempted.
The last time President Marcos took the oath of office was in 1981 for a six-year term under rules of the parliamentary government he has created since 1972. An executive committee has been established to ensure a smooth succession, should anything happen to Marcos. The concessions announced earlier this month - elections for vice-president in 1987, the appointment of the 73-year-old national assembly speaker, Querube Makalintal, as interim successor, and the resignation of Mrs. Marcos from the executive committee - are unlikely to relieve the pressure for change in the succession rules.
First, the denial of political ambitions that accompanied Mrs. Marcos's resignation from the executive committee will probably not be taken at face value: Such disclaimers have been scattered regularly throughout her political career and have often been the prelude to the reassumption of a major position. Moreover, the committee she resigned from had just ceased to have any function.
Second, many of those who are demanding a new succession system fear that the President will not live until 1987. And third, many of the government's strongest critics in the business community are saying openly that, even if the President survives until then, the economy will not.
Leading the move for change are Emmanuel Pelaez, a member of the executive committee and an important KBL boss from the southern Philippines, and assemblyman Arturo Tolentino, another KBL leader and one of the country's top constitutional lawyers.
Mr. Pelaez is pushing for a constitutional amendment that would give Prime Minister Cesar Virata powers to rule as acting president should anything happen to Mr. Marcos. Mr. Tolentino wants to revive the office of vice-president. Both men want to enact changes in the succession rules fast: Tolentino wants to see vice-presidential elections next May; Pelaez simply says he would like constitutional changes as soon as possible.