After euphoria: How Aquino can forestall backlash

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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.

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.

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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.

If the Aquino government with its tremendous surge of initial public support can move fairly rapidly to improve the lives of the poor at least somewhat, the work of denying support to the communist insurgents and eventually winning the battle will be greatly facilitated.

There is one other, longer-term problem for Mrs. Aquino. She has had no experience in running a government and will need to lean heavily on her Cabinet ministers for both advice and implementation of her policies. Some of her ministers are former Marcos associates with developed political habits. They are known to have political ambitions of their own. Will they put the interests of their country ahead of personal ambition, or will they use their position as a steppingstone to bigger and better things?

Coupled with this will be problems with the partially corrupted bureaucracy, some of which will also work with ambitious ministers.

What can and should the United States do to help Mrs. Aquino rebuild a stable Philippines? First, we must move swiftly to supply the economic and military aid we have promised. At the same time, recognizing that economic upheaval is the most serious challenge to a stable and democratic Philippines, we should be prepared to increase our aid substantially over the next several years.

Meanwhile, we should do our utmost to encourage international financial institutions and other free nations, particularly in the Pacific-Asian area, to contribute to the rebuilding effort. Japan and the ASEAN countries have a vital stake in a free and democratic Philippines. Japan in particular not only has the resources to contribute untied aid, but also a compelling interest, because the Philippines sits astride its most vital trade route. The Aquino government must recognize, however, that action on its part to coax foreign investment and encourage the return of the recent massive outflow of capital is essential to economic recovery in the Philippines.

Finally there is one thing we must not do. That is to try to link our aid to the future of our military bases in the Philippines. Aquino will honor the present base agreement, which runs until 1991. What happens then will depend largely on the success or failure of her efforts to rebuild a democratic and economically stable Philippines. If she succeeds, I think the Filipinos' own assessment of the value of the bases to them will be positive. If she fails and the Philippines succumbs to disorder and the threat of communist insurgency, with the Philippine people opposing the renewal of the base agreement, the bases will be of little value.

Gen. Dwight Eisenhower perhaps put it best when he once commented to me at SHAPE: ``A US base in another country is of value only if a substantial majority of the people of that country believe it serves their own enlightened self-interest, not just ours. Even if you have a formal agreement and a majority then turns against that agreement, the base can be held only if you're willing to land the Marines, and that we'll never do.''

Douglas MacArthur II is a retired career ambassador who held six presidential appointments, besides serving as assistant secretary of state for congressional relations.

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