Manila: the military's role

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DEVELOPMENTS are moving swiftly in the Philippine presidential campaign. Warning signs are up: Will the election be fair? Will it even be held? Will the results make a difference to most Filipinos -- especially in tribal-dominated rural areas? Key opposition leaders Corazon Aquino and former Sen. Salvador Laurel seek a united ticket in the elections, set for Feb. 7. They must quickly combine forces to have any prospect of seriously contesting the 20-year rule of President Marcos.

On Dec. 17 the Supreme Court, controlled by Mr. Marcos, will hear requests to stop the election. Four of the nine justices favor stopping it. If a unitary Aquino-Laurel ticket managed to mount a serious threat, Marcos forces could have the court call off the election. But that should not be permitted: The election should proceed.

And it should be fair. The Marcos-dominated Commission on Elections, and the Government Printing Office -- which play important election roles -- should operate with honesty. The United States should make it clear that fraud would have serious repercussions.

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Marcos made the wrong move in restoring General Ver, cleared in a questionable judicial decision in the killing of Mrs. Aquino's husband, as armed forces chief and charging him with reforming the military. The military is the bulwark of Marcos's power, and the government's principal force in the countryside. The military requires major reform to increase professionalism; Ver has little qualification for this task. Many in the military bear heavy responsibility for human rights violations in the countrys ide (as does the communist-affiliated New People's Army). The conduct of the military may well be more important than the identity of the president in determining whether rural Filipinos cast their lot with the government or the insurgents.

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