THE Philippine three-judge court's decision to acquit Gen. Fabian Ver, chief of staff of the Philippine armed forces, and 25 other defendants on charges stemming from the murder of Benigno Aquino Jr. represents yet one more chapter of chicanery in the inglorious record of one-man rule President Marcos has established. Despite the acquittals, the Marcos government stands convicted in the court of world opinion for covering up the murder of its principal opponent and orchestrating the acquittal of the assass ins who carried it out. Mr. Marcos's crony, General Ver, won his freedom through the willful disregard of incontrovertible evidence by a court Marcos appointed and controlled. Ver's acquittal was predictable, inasmuch as the Supreme Court had previously thrown out the evidence on which the general's indictment had been based.
The court's verdict sent a chilling message to the Filipino people that no one is safe from government hit men and a comforting message to official assassins that they need not fear the legal consequences of their actions.
Compounding the damage caused by the court's decision, President Marcos moved immediately after the trial to reappoint General Ver as chief of the armed forces. During the general's tenure as the top military official in the Philippines, the spread of corruption, the decline of discipline, and the endemic abuse of human rights created a situation in which the Philippine armed forces did more to fuel the insurgency than to contain it.
Military corruption and human rights abuses, including murder, disappearances, and torture, have provided potent political ammunition for the communist-dominated New People's Army. More than 15,000 NPA guerrillas have already taken up arms against the government. The Reagan administration has testified to Congress that, if current trends continue, the NPA will have fought the government to a standstill by the end of the decade and may be able to take power in the 1990s. Only when General Ver and other top miliary officials are replaced by commanders who are appointed for their professional competence rather than their political connections will the Philippine military be in a position to effectively combat and contain the growing communist challenge.
Our country has enormous interests at stake in the Philippines, the site of our two largest military facilities anywhere outside the United States, Clark Field and Subic Bay Naval Base. These bases are vitally important in enabling the United States to preserve the peace and maintain a balance of power in Asia. If the communists were to come to power in the Philippines, it would be a tragedy for the Filipino people and a severe strategic setback for the US, since we would undoubtedly be denied access to
Clark and Subic.
The Reagan administration has indicated its disapproval of General Ver's reinstatement. The administration should now make it clear that we will refuse to disperse any military aid to the Philippines until General Ver is removed and the upper echelons of the Philippine military are staffed by individuals committed to patriotism and professionalism rather than personal enrichment and palace intrigue. Without these personnel changes, even a quadrupling of our military assistance would not do any good, si nce the prospects for the effective use of our aid would be virtually nonexistent.
Even if General Ver is replaced, we should harbor no illusions that the problems of the Philippines can be solved with a single stroke. Stopping the slide toward communism will require not only profound military changes, but equally extensive political and economic reforms as well. No factor is more important in this regard than guaranteeing the integrity of the electoral process in the forthcoming presidential campaign.
The Feb. 7 election represents what is probably the last best hope to restore the confidence of the Filipino people in their government. In the wake of the Aquino assassination and the acquittal of General Ver and the other defendants, a fraudulent election would probably constitute a fatal blow to the prospects for the restoration of democracy and might well set the stage for the eventual triumph of communism in that country. A free and fair election should, therefore, be our top policy priority for the Philippines in the weeks ahead.
Rep. Stephen J. Solarz (D) of New York is chairman of the House Subcommittee on Asian and Pacific Affairs.