Ileto: statesman and mediator

When events get rough in Manila, Rafael M. Ileto says he likes to go to his nearby farm and tend his 4,000 pigs. Now that he is the new defense minister of the Philippines, Mr. Ileto will find plenty of reasons to be with his swine, but very little time.

The tall, retired general, who replaced Juan Ponce Enrile Sunday, is a relaxed, experienced, and respected elder statesman. When he recently described President Corazon Aquino, he could have been talking about himself. ``She is gentle and steady, but boy-oh-boy does she have a mind of her own. She's hard-headed.''

A 1943 West Point graduate, Ileto became famous for organizing small ``scout ranger'' units to fight the communist Huk rebellion in the early 1950s. ``Perhaps we fail to take today's communist insurgency as seriously because we don't have 30,000 rebels just outside Manila like we did back then,'' he says.

In 1972, he was the only general to oppose martial law - a stand that got him banished by former President Ferdinand Marcos, first to Iran and then to Thailand as ambassador. Last February, Ileto acted as a mediator between Mr. Marcos and defecting officers led by Mr. Enrile.

When Mrs. Aquino came to power, Ileto was appointed deputy defense minister. In July, he again mediated to end the anti-Aquino military rebellion of 300 soldiers holed up in the Manila Hotel. Ileto criticized Aquino's failure to punish the soldiers, warning it might spread more rebellion.

He also criticizes military chief of staff, Gen. Fidel Ramos for retaining the concentration of power left behind by Marcos's chief of staff. ``We're too top heavy...,'' he says. ``We have not installed enough discpline in the military yet. But morale is improving.'' He regards his former boss, Enrile, as a beleaguered man who needs protection. ``I feel sorry for him,'' Ileto said recently. Enrile's anticommunist speeches were mere posturing so that he could claim credit when Aquino finally reopened full warfare with the rebels, Ileto said.

Ileto predicts any cease-fire with the rebels would fail, and recommends ``calibrated application of military,'' region by region.

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