Philippines bog down over type of trial military chief will get

Filipinos are not about to settle for merely naming top military officers as responsible for the assassination of opposition leader Benigno S. Aquino Jr. They want them prosecuted in an independent special court.

With popular confidence in the Marcos government at its ebb, most Filipinos fear a fair trial is not possible under the present judicial system.

But prospects for a ''people's court'' remain dim since the National Assembly , the body that could create it by law, is controlled by members of President Ferdinand Marcos's ruling party, the New Society Movement (KBL). Mr. Marcos can also override the assembly's will.

Last week, he referred the findings of the panel investigating the killing - one report from chairman Corazon Agrava and one from the other four members - to the Tanodbayan, a civilian court created by presidential decree.

The majority report concluded that Gen. Fabian Ver, chief of staff of the armed forces, and 25 other people, were ''indictable for premeditated killing'' of both Aquino and his alleged assassin, Rolando Galman. A dissenting report by Mrs. Agrava implicated the military but not General Ver.

Opposition members of the National Assembly have already filed a bill proposing that parliament immediately create a ''people's court'' to try those involved in the Aquino assassination case.

Leading KBL members, however, have debunked the opposition proposal. Foreign Minister Arturo Tolentino says that since Marcos himself has the power to appoint judges, a ''people's court'' would be under suspicion from the beginning.

Justice Minister Estelito Mendoza says ''problems'' will be encountered in forming a special court. He cites the case of the Fernando Commission, the first panel assigned to investigate the murder, which was dissolved because of charges that it was packed with Marcos loyalists.

Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile points out that Tanodbayan judges can be impeached by parliament. This ''could serve as a warning - if the judges do not do their job,'' he says.

However, other recent events have further shaken public confidence in the Tanodbayan probe.

In an Oct. 24 letter to Ver, the President wrote that ''the circumtances under which the board has chosen to implicate you ... are fraught with doubt and great contradictions of opinion and testimony.''

And 68 generals published in a local daily newspaper a manifesto declaring ''complete faith'' in the judicial process. It said they were ''confident that ... the truth will prevail and the honor and the dignity of Ver ... vindicated.''

If the trial is perceived to be a whitewash, however, this will spawn more unrest and provide further instability to an already beleaguered government.

Much of the public sees the panel's absolution of Marcos as a grievous omission. But indictment of the military and the speed with which Marcos asked Ver to take a leave of absence appears to have given the government some credence.

Marcos's options are limited. He cannot escape pressure from local popular sentiment and the United States for a fair trial - meaning, not absolving those named, including Ver.

Many believe that Marcos cannot sacrifice General Ver because the military is one of the two pillars holding up the government. (The other is the US.)

However, Ver can be appointed to another government post or keep the status quo: He still heads the powerful National Intelligence and Security Agency.

''That's more dangerous than being AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) chief of staff,'' a retired military officer said in an interview.

A US Embassy spokesman, referring to the venue of the trial, said, ''Whether commission or court is not for us to comment.'' This may indicate the US has no strong preference for either the Tanodbayan or ''people's court'' as long as those responsible are held accountable.

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