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After euphoria: How Aquino can forestall backlash

By Douglas MacArthur II / March 4, 1986

IN any successful revolution or liberation movement, there is always the danger that euphoria will give rise to exaggerated expectations for quick solutions to all problems. If not met, such expectations can lead to discord and a crippling backlash. The Philippines faces that danger today. After 20 years of a venal Marcos government, the country has been left bankrupt, with its basic framework impaired. The problems involved in restructuring its political, economic, social, and security institutions are daunting and cannot be resolved overnight. They will take time and they will take patience, a quality for which neither Americans nor Filipinos in their present mind are noted.

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While President Corazon Aquino is enjoying massive public support right now, this support is more for change and a return to democracy and better times than for specific programs.

President Aquino has started well, calling for patience and reconciliation -- calling for all Filipinos, despite past differences, to work together to rebuild the country. She has also cleared the first constitutional hurdle skillfully. Rather than ruling by decree, she will act within existing constitutional institutions. She will work with the previously Marcos-controlled National Assembly, where she now has a majority. This gives her time to turn to the most urgent problems before tackling constitutional reform and cleansing the Marcos-packed courts.

Her gravest challenge is the economy. As a result of wild Marcos spending, corruption, and cronyism, the Philippine Treasury is empty and industries are run down and dormant. Well over half the population is living below the poverty level. Unemployment is more than 50 percent. Price fixing by corrupt Marcos cronies controlling the sugar and cocoa monopolies have left the small farmers, who constitute much of the population, unable to eke out a subsistence living. This appalling poverty has contributed to support for the communist insurgents. There is understandable impatience among both the urban and rural masses for a better life.

National security is another most urgent problem. The corruption of elements of the Filipino military establishment by Gen. Fabian Ver and his military cohorts has also unquestionably contributed to the success of communist insurgency. A thorough reorganization of the military is essential, but it will solve only part of the problem. It seems most likely that in a climate of poverty and military corruption, communist insurgents have infiltrated the military operational counterinsurgency structure, just as they did the communist-supported Huk insurgency in the early 1950s.

Ram'on Magsaysay, who, first as defense minister and later as President, crushed the Huks, once described to me the problem he faced when he took over the Defense Ministry in 1950. In his first three search-and-destroy strikes against Huk encampments, his troops found nothing but evidence of hasty departure.

He then realized the Huks had been tipped off from within his military. So on the eve of the next operation he selected one of several targets to hit and set a departure time at 6 the next morning. Instead he arrived in the barracks at midnight, moving the unit out against a different target. ``We surprised them and took them all,'' he told me.