Political `center' eludes Aquino government in left-right tug of war. Both communists and Army accuse Aquino of being `soft' on other side

President Corazon Aquino's 19 months in office have been wracked by two persistent threats to her government: the growing communist insurgency and the menace from right-wing extremists in the armed forces. While the communists have been gnawing away at the foundations of Mrs. Aquino's government through political and military offensives, military extremists have staged at least five attempts to grab power from her.

Each side appears to be aiming to seize the power that Aquino holds and to use it to wipe out the other side. In the process, Aquino, who has declared ``open war'' on the two extremes, has been called alternately a ``red-coddler'' and a ``fascist dictator.''

To keep her balance in this tug-of-war, observers say, Aquino must strengthen the political center which - at this time - appears difficult to define.

Political analyst Randolf David says that for Aquino to remain centrist, she must undertake necessary reforms such as agrarian reform that will inevitably be ``stigmatized as left-wing.'' Aquino, Professor David observes, inherited a right-wing social order from the Marcos regime. ``If she equates being at the center with preserving the status quo, that would be objectively subsuming herself to the logic of the right,'' he says.

A leader of the above-ground left, cleric Edicio de la Torre, claims the immediate danger comes from the military, noting the growing demands of the military leadership on Aquino. The communists, he says, are in no position to grab power in the near future.

The left has accused Aquino, who came to power on a populist and pluralist platform, of bending to pressure from the military. The ``war'' she has declared against the insurgency, the ``soft'' punishment for right-wing coup plotters, the removal of alleged ``leftists'' in her Cabinet, the murder and intimidation of leaders of the above-ground left, inaction on complaints of rights violations by military men and civilian vigilantes, and her lack of commitment to ``pro-people'' programs like agrarian reform, the left says, signal a ``rightward drift.''

The right, on the other hand, represented in the extreme by renegade Col. Gregorio Honasan, asserts that Aquino is too ``soft'' on the left, has no effective program to fight the communist insurgency, and is harboring communists in her own government. They want ``decisive'' military actions against the outlawed communist New People's Army and ``reasonable laws'' that will not give suspected subversives shelter in the legal system.

Yesterday, tension ran high in Manila as hundreds of troops were deployed around the capital for several hours after reports that rebel soldiers might try again to overthrow Aquino. The troops were reportedly recalled to their barracks at midday when no uprising took place.

Only the day before, murdered leftist leader Leandro Alejandro was buried amid fear of possible disruptions by right-wing elements. The 10-hour funeral march Tuesday was attended by some 60,000 mourners chanting anti-Aquino and anti-military slogans in Manila. Mr. Alejandro's killer has not yet been identified.

Also on Tuesday, Aquino's estranged Vice-President Salvador Laurel, who claims to reflect the military's thinking, was at the Senate to reveal a list of over 100 alleged ``communists'' found at all levels of government.

Both the funeral and Senate meeting ended uneventfully. Soldiers kept away from the funeral. And Mr. Laurel amended his original charges, handing senators the names merely of ``left-leaning'' persons in government.

While the Honasan mutiny was the most direct challenge ever to Aquino's government, armed forces chief of staff Gen. Fidel Ramos has said the communists remain the ``most potent threat'' because they have a 54-year history of trying to seize power, a nation-wide organization, overseas links and support, long- and short-term political objectives, and valid economic and social grievances.

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