Businessmen help push rising tide against Marcos

Last week's election setback for the Marcos government in the Philippines was the first taste of success for the business community here, which has been in a state of near-revolt for the last nine months.

Business leaders now aim to keep pressure on Ferdinand Marcos, using the new National Assembly, public opinion, the United States government, and Manila's foreign creditors.

In theory the businessmen want to cut away most of the political and economic system created by Mr. Marcos over the past decade. In fact they want to remove the President.

But business leaders, like many other Filipinos, expect Mr. Marcos to whittle away, by fraudulent means, the opposition gains.

''A great deal depends on whether the President . . . resorts to standard form to frustrate the will of the people,'' says Jaime Ongpin, president of the Benguet Mining Corporation.

On Wednesday, Mr. Marcos made a move to dilute the opposition's strong showing in the May 14 election. He called for a special session of the present National Assembly on Monday to approve a bill that would allow him to appoint an additional 18 members to the body. Since the just-elected assembly does not meet until June 30, the current, largely pro-Marcos assembly could be expected to pass the bill.

In effect, this measure would not only weaken the opposition's legislative strength, but also could thwart a proposed effort to introduce an embarrassing impeachment bill against Mr. Marcos. Such a bill needs the support of at least 20 percent of the assembly to be introduced.

The addition of 18 more appointees, could leave the opposition's final strength below 20 percent.

Incomplete election returns show Marcos's KBL (Movement for a New Society) party with 89 seats and the opposition and independents with 54 seats out of the 183 seats at stake. At present, the President appoints 17 members to make a total 200-seat chamber.

Mr. Ongpin says most of his business acquaintances expect Mr. Marcos to tamper with the election results. Jose Romero, director of the Makati Business Club (MBC), which has emerged as the focal point for the business revolt, puts its succinctly: ''Marcos has to stop cheating.''

The first thing many businessmen say they plan to do is establish contact with the new assembly. In fact, Ongpin and Romero have already done this, though they will not say so openly.

A group of key businessmen opposed to the Marcos government gave financial aid to about two dozen candidates in the election. Most were oppositionist, but about six were in the ruling KBL party.

The group also contributed heavily to Namfrel, the National Citizens' Movement for Free Elections, whose watchdog activities during the elections had a decisive effect on the outcome. Namfrel's costs are conservatively estimated at 10 million pesos ($700,000). One major corporation alone says it contributed planes, cars, cash, and personnel totaling 1 million pesos ($70,000).

The businessmen say they will hold a series of informal meetings with the assemblymen. Then, if they can reach an agreement on policy aims, the business community will provide legislative support ''and try to help ram through vital legislation,'' Mr. Romero says.

The businessmen will concentrate their fire on Amendment VI to the Constitution, which allows President Marcos to rule by decree - and thus, if he wishes, virtually ignore the National Assembly. ''We can't achieve anything without getting rid of that,'' says Ongpin. ''That's how Marcos ruined the economy - by issuing decrees giving this friend, that friend large chunks of the economy.''

It will be a long fight - ''probably three years minimum,'' Ongpin predicts. Shortly before the election, two Cabinet ministers - Deputy Premier Jose Rono and Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile - restated their support for Amendment VI. Mr. Rono said that the amendment would be all the more important after the election in view of the tough measures the government would be required to take to restore the economy and obtain support from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Rono hinted that these measures might lead to social unrest, and presidential decrees might be needed to stem this. He also said the President shared these views.

The first measure to meet IMF loan conditions came Wednesday when Mr. Marcos ordered an 8 percent hike in oil prices.

Businessmen plan to enlist the support of government as well as opposition parliamentarians. Ongpin expects the government to buy off some opposition assemblymen.

''Three-quarters of the KBL members are younger then Marcos,'' said Ongpin. ''The younger guys have their political future ahead of them: They have to read the signs even if their boss can't.''

The key figure in the assembly is likely to be the highly independent KBL politician Arturo Tolentino.

''Tolentino has been very open to us,'' a businessman says. ''He's 73, but he's in perfect health - and he's not without ambition.''

The businessmen seem ready to fuel that ambition. A leading constitutional specialist - and the only KBL man to be elected in the city of Manila - Tolentino is widely regarded as the person most responsible for forcing the President to restore the vice-presidency - a move Marcos viscerally opposed. The business community now hopes he can do the same with Amendment VI.

The businessmen are also preparing to exert a little pressure on less cooperative legislators.

''We'll be compiling quarterly report cards on members,'' says the MBC's Romero, himself the son of a former Cabinet minister. ''Then we'll send it to his local press. There's a lot of enthusiasm for the idea.''

The businessmen also plan to involve US officials and the government's private creditors in the international banking world.

US pressure, Ongpin says, is vital: ''There's no one else Marcos will pay attention to.'' But as usual, Ongpin adds, ''The US has a wishy-washy, namby-pamby scenario.''

Pressure from the foreign commercial banks, businessmen here say, may prove more productive.

In theory the IMF is expected to approve soon a $650 million financial assistance package for the Philippines. This would in turn trigger an aid package worth more than $3 billion. Most of this would come from private banks: Manila's international creditors are expected to reschedule the Philippines' foreign debt - now standing at $25.8 billion - and to provide further loans amounting to about 12 percent of their current commitment.

Businessmen here say, however, that the creditors are angry at recent government actions. The most recent of these was the increase of the money supply by 40 percent in the first quarter of this year.

The banks and the IMF want exactly the reverse to be done. Most observers suspect that this was done primarily for electoral purposes - both to keep the economy looking relatively good during the election campaign and to provide the KBL with election expenses.

Manila's business community may have been encouraging this anger. The businessmen are certainly in touch with the major foreign creditors. ''They have assured us,'' Ongpin says with ill-disguised satisfaction, ''that they will impose conditions on their support. No more Mr. Nice Guy.''

The conditions will probably include more report cards - a monthly assessment of the government's economic performance.

''If they're not up to snuff, funds will be delayed or suspended,'' says Ongpin. ''I mean would you lend more money to this place?''

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