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Marcos's talk of American troops

By YN / June 6, 1985



WAS President Ferdinand Marcos merely musing out loud when he suggested that ``allied troops'' might be necessary to put down the communist rebellion now under way in the Philippines? Or was Mr. Marcos -- either purposefully or unintentionally -- sending another message to the world community: that insurgency in his country is becoming a far more serious challenge than the Marcos regime has been willing to acknowledge? President Marcos, who has just announced that he will seek reelection in 1987, was reportedly speaking in hypothetical terms. ``If the integration of aid and foreign-trained troops is so massive that it is the equivalent to outright attack,'' he said, ``then we may have to ask for the help of allied troops as provided for in the mutual defense pact.''

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He did not specifically refer to United States troops. But the ``mutual defense pact'' referred to was surely the US-Philippine mutual defense agreement.

The Marcos observations may have been intended merely to help shore up backing by the US Congress for foreign assistance for his nation. And among legal scholars, there is some debate about whether the joint mutual defense agreement could be used to justify calling upon US forces to help put down an internal dispute. Still, the discussion of possible outside military intervention cannot help but be troubling. The statement is believed to be the first time President Marcos has raised the possibility of a direct US military role in his government's campaign against the insurgents.

Without taking up the question at this moment of exactly who the dissidents are that make up the communist New People's Army, three observations would seem in order:

Rather than raise the hypothetical issue of allied military support in quelling insurgents, Manila needs to move much faster than has been the case in putting its own military and economic house in order. That means ending the demoralization and corruption that are considered major problems within the armed forces. The call for such reform, interestingly, is coming from junior officers within the Philippine military.

Economically, Manila needs to spur national growth by, among other steps, curbing monopolies, cronyism, and excessive state controls -- including those over agriculture.

Insurgency can grow only in an environment where the people feel increasingly alienated from the central government.

The model for successful Philippine resistance to insurgency remains Ram'on Magsaysay, the former defense chief and president. Back in the 1950s, Magsaysay combined a policy of firm military action against the then-insurgent Hukbalahap movement and responsible social-welfare programs that enabled the majority of the Philippine countryside to identify with the governing regime in Manila.

Given the disturbing levels of insurgency now within the Philippine countryside, it seems time for the current government in Manila to get the message left by Magsaysay.