Manila — The Philippines' next ambassador to the United States had hoped to settle into a job earning one peso a year (5 cents) as head of the country's rural electric cooperatives. Instead, Emmanuel Pelaez has reluctantly agreed to represent President Corazon Aquino's government to its most powerful and controversial ally.
As one of this country's most respected veteran politicians, he will be continuing four decades of public life after a hiatus of several years following an attempt on his life in 1982.
Ambassador Pelaez has good relations with Mrs. Aquino, and Vice-President Salvador Laurel told Mr. Pelaez he would sleep better knowing Pelaez was in Washington.
In an interview, Pelaez said one of his most important missions in the US will be to correct the image many people have of his country from the old regime of former President Ferdinand Marcos.
``I'm going to Washington as a missionary disguised as a diplomat,'' he says. His mission, he adds, is to tell Americans about the new spirit of the Filipinos.
``The American impression of the Philippines has been associated with corruption and underhanded business deals. Now the world has discovered that the Filipino people have an inner strength, and this is the same strength we can use to overcome poverty and corruption,'' Pelaez says.
Having advised Aquino in her campaign, he shares her views on major issues. Pelaez is a legal expert on the US bases in the Philippines.
In a recent article in a Filipino scholarly journal, he reviewed the history of the US-Philippine bases agreement from its signing in 1947.
He supports Aquino's position that the agreement should be thoroughly reexamined and that the Philippines should ``keep its options open'' when the agreement expires in 1991.
``The 1947 bases agreement is a structure that cannot be allowed to continue,'' he said in the interview.
He asserted that the 1979 renegotiation of the agreement was ``a patch-up affair'' that only modified a one-sided arrangement.
Pelaez also has a longstanding personal interest in rural economic development and founded the Philippines' first rural energy cooperative.
He recalled that, under deposed President Marcos, the rural cooperatives barely survived takeover attempts by the National Power Commission, nominally headed by the former President's wife, Imelda Marcos.
Now, Pelaez says, he is working to make the cooperatives a catalyst for rural change, following the examples of Taiwan and other developing countries. Rural economic development is also a high priority with Aquino.
On the role of foreign investors in the Philippines, Pelaez says they are welcome -- provided they balance their profit motive with a concern for developing human resources.
During the interview, Pelaez said he experienced a turning point in his life following an ambush in 1982.
While riding in a car, two gunmen attacked him, killing his driver and wounding Pelaez seriously. Soon after, his daughter visited him and opened the Bible to Psalm 30. Pelaez says that during his convalescence, the psalm made a deep impression on him.
He later resigned from politics and took a more active role in Christian groups, becoming involved in a Christian charismatic organization with headquarters in the United States. He is also president of the Philippine Bible Society.
Commenting on the dramatic events of last February which swept Mr. Marcos out of power, he expresses a view, common among Filipinos, that the change of political leadership had profound meaning for the country.
``You cannot conceive of those events happening one after another without the inevitable conclusion that there was a divine power orchestrating the whole thing,'' Pelaez said recently on national television, repeating a comment first made by the armed forces chief of staff, Gen. Fidel Ramos. (General Ramos, along with Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile, helped lead the military revolt that brought the final collapse of the Marcos regime.)
A former Marcos supporter, Pelaez was elected to the National Assembly in 1978, representing a predominantly Muslim constituency from his home district on the southern island of Mindanao.
He later served as minister of state for foreign affairs until he resigned from political life in 1984.
While serving under Marcos, he was critical of some of the administration's policies, especially attempts to extract taxes from coconut farmers and the monopolistic agricultural empires of Marcos's business associates.
This will not be Pelaez's first trip to Washington.
He recalls a meeting he had with former President John Kennedy in the early 1960s, when he served as vice-president under President Diosdado Macapagal (1962-65), as well as many subsequent visits.
After his vice-presidency, he was a leading candidate for his party's presidential nomination in 1965, when Marcos switched to Pelaez's Nationalist Party and won the election.