Imelda's Return May Divide Mrs. Aquino's Political Opponents

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

IS Imelda Marcos on her way home?Marcos family lawyer Manuel Lazaro, for one, hopes not. "Her return home will further complicate an already complicated political horizon," says the one-time legal counsel to Mrs. Marcos' husband, the late President Ferdinand Marcos. The latest jockeying between Marcos and her widowed rival, President Corazon Aquino, has been prompted by the expiration of a United States ban on transporting the late president's body from Hawaii, where he died in exile in 1989. Still reeling from the Philippine Senate's rejection of a new US bases treaty, Mrs. Aquino first unsuccessfully begged US officials to extend the ban, then reaffirmed her own refusal to allow the remains back in the Philippines. Overriding her lawyers' concerns, Marcos, who has long insisted she will not return without her husband's remains, says she will go home Nov. 4 before an extended one-way government travel pass expires. Aquino, who blames the Marcoses for the 1983 assassination of her husband, Benigno, said last July that Marcos and her three children could come home to face charges for allegedly looting the country during two decades in power. But the leader blocked the body's return, fearing that Marcos will repeat Aquino's own ploy of parading her husband's bloodied corpse around Manila before burial in 1983. That stirred popular revulsion against the Marcoses, culminating in their overthrow in a popular revolt three years later. Aquino risks new turmoil in hopes that Marcos' presence will spur what has been a sluggish five-year quest to recoup part of the $5 billion reportedly stolen by Ferdinand Marcos. "If she's around, the action will be more direct and she will enliven the courts and accelerate the process," says David Castro, head of the Presidential Commission on Good Government, which leads the hunt for the Marcos treasure. "Our recovery cannot be significant unless we get those big amounts overseas." Aquino hopes Marcos, a figure of power and bitter controversy during her husband's rule and a potential presidential contender, will divide the president's opponents, political observers say. Aquino insists she will not seek reelection. In the past, Marcos has been at odds with Juan Ponce Enrile, Marcos' former defense secretary, and Eduardo Cojuangco, a Marcos confidante who fled to Hawaii with the late president in 1986. Both have presidential ambitions. Many loyalists revere the late president but blame Imelda Marcos' extravagance for stirring political opposition and causing her husband's political collapse. "If she had 2,000 pairs of shoes, he had three pairs. If she had 2,000 dresses, he had two jackets," says lawyer Lazaro. "Poor fellow. I often had to lend him a tie." In northeastern Luzon island, the traditional Marcos stronghold, returning without the remains could even backfire on the widow, observers say. "The people might get mad if she shows up without the body," says Luis Singson, a national legislator and notorious Marcos henchman. "In the rural areas, people don't even know Imelda Marcos. But in the urban areas, they blame her for the downfall of Marcos and making money without the president knowing it." Government officials hope to exploit that distaste for Imelda to convince loyalists maintaining fronts for the Marcos empire to collaborate with investigators and testify against the family. "On the part of the minor cronies, they will be squeezed between [the government] and her. What benefit will there be to hang on and get caught between two fighting bulls?" asks Castro, the official in charge of recovering the Marcos assets. "They'll say, 'Get me out of this mess However, many expect Marcos to use her money and clout to give the government a protracted and bitter legal fight. Last year, the theatrical former beauty queen won acquittal on fraud and racketeering charges for property deals in the US.

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