Marcos under pressure to fire top Filipino general

As release of the report on the assassination of Philippine opposition leader Benigno Aquino Jr. draws near, pressure is mounting on Gen. Fabian Ver - armed forces chief of staff and the President's shadow - to resign.

But the general and his family are resisting the pressure. Diplomatic sources say that the general's second son, Col. Irwin Ver, has been telling associates that if his father is forced to resign, ''He will not take this lying down.''

The threat is not necessarily hollow: Colonel Ver and his two brothers have key roles in Presidential Security Command, the powerful and well-equipped unit assigned to guard Ferdinand Marcos, his family, and friends.

Leaks from the Fact-Finding Board investigating the assassination indicate that four of the five board members favor naming General Ver as either a conspirator in the murder of Aquino at Manila airport in August 1983, or as an accomplice in the subsequent cover-up. The dissenter is the board's chairman, Corazon Juliano Agrava.

At least one Cabinet officer, Labor Minister Blas Ople, has suggested privately to President Marcos that a ''sacrifice'' be made at the top of the armed forces. The sacrifice was not named, but Ver heads the military.

Some time before this, a senior board official says he was approached by another Cabinet minister known to be particularly close to President Marcos. The minister reportedly said that if the board did not name General Ver, Marcos would find a way to get rid of him. In the complicated shadow play of Manila politics, there is no way of knowing whether the offer was genuine or a bluff.

There is, however, no doubting the general's determination to remain. In an unusual conversation on this matter, military sources close to General Ver - one of them intimately connected to the general - made it clear that the general wanted to resist any efforts to dismiss him and felt that the regime could weather any storm that followed publication of the board's results.

Their opinions seemed carefully thought out, and may well echo a line of argument presented to the President. Some of the implications of the line were faintly ominous.

''Resignation here is taken as an admission of guilt,'' one of the military sources said. ''So I don't think the general would resign.''

And, the source hinted, Ver's resignation would be viewed as an indication of President Marcos's guilt.

''Ver is not going to do anything without the President's knowledge,'' a source remarked. ''So the President firmly believes Ver is innocent.'' The source said that Ver saw the President on average three or four times a day - probably more than any Cabinet minister.

The military sources also hinted that General Ver is indispensable to the President. ''Through the years (Ver) has assumed many roles for the President,'' one said. ''He assumed them because there was no one else the President could rely on in certain situations.''

This relationship, the source implied, would be difficult to replace at this delicate point in Philippine history.

The sources felt that the publication of the assassination report would provoke another round of street demonstrations, but that the regime should - and could - ride these out. Admitting that large antigovernment demonstrations had become a part of Philippine life since the assassination, one of the sources remarked that the size of the demonstrations had tended to decline. The next wave, he said would probably be short and spectacular, ''like a fire of cogon grass.''

The sources stuck to the theory that Aquino had been killed by Rolando Galman , a small-time gangster, at the bidding of the underground Communist Party. They admitted that few civilians accept this theory.

Security at Manila airport, one source said, had been ''complacent.'' Aquino had made their job more difficult by camouflaging his return. The sources, who have security and intelligence backgrounds, denied that the government was tracking Aquino's return or that it knew what plane Aquino would arrive on. They dismissed evidence to the contrary. The theory of a military conspiracy, one of them claimed, was inherently implausible.

''If I had to do something sensitive - say assassination - I'm not going to use guys from all sorts of different units,'' one source asserted. He was referring to the diversify of military backgrounds of the men assigned to escort Aquino from his plane.

''I'd have chosen men who have been with me since I was a lieutenant.'' (In fact, Gen. Luther Custodio, commander of the special security unit at Manila airport and thought to be one of the board's prime suspects, has had a long relationship with General Ver.)

The sources portrayed themselves as the aggrieved parties. ''The military has played by the book on this,'' one said. ''Other sectors - like the press - have not. The military is quite, shall we say, frustrated, by the way coverage of this story has been channeled in one direction - a military conspiracy,'' the source added.

The military has recently distributed in Manila a pamphlet laying out the theme of a communist conspiracy. It notes that ''the customary belief held by military personnel that a commander is responsible for everything that his unit does or fails to do, is not an absolute rule.''

Observers here do not exclude the possibility of a military coup spearheaded by the Presidential Security Command, but feel it is unlikely in view of General Ver's devotion to the President. Tension is, however, likely to continue rising until the report is finally released. ''Right now this town is on edge,'' one diplomat commented.

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