Mrs. Marcos, the Filipino `ghostbuster'

IMELDA Marcos, an amateur singer of some repute in addition to being the First Lady in the Philippines, has added a new song to her repertoire: the theme from the film ``Ghostbusters.'' The song, Mrs. Marcos's aides say, has a serious message. What is the message?

``Mrs. Marcos says we should listen to what the children are saying,'' Joly Benitez, Mrs. Marcos's deputy at the Ministry of Human Settlements, told a Filipino journalist recently.

He quoted from the song. `` `Something strange is happening in your neighborhood. Who ya gonna call? Ghostbusters.' ''

When a society's values begin to break down under strain, Mr. Benitez explained, ``It is then that we need new ideas, new concepts, to weld the society together. It is then that we need to call in the Ghostbusters.

``You see, she [Mrs. Marcos] is so simple yet so profound.''

Mrs. Marcos may well view herself as a ghostbuster. And if she does, she probably feels the best way to reinvigorate society is by succeeding her husband.

She regularly denies having presidential ambitions. Her husband also routinely denies that she will run.

Few people believe them. Among the skeptics are several Cabinet ministers. Two were interviewed for this article, but neither wished to be identified.

``I think she'll run,'' says one. ``In fact, she's busy working on it now. I don't think you can discourage her. She's already convinced she is a very popular person.''

``Kokoy's trying again,'' says another. Kokoy is Benjamin Romualdez, ambassador to Washington and Mrs. Marcos's brother. ``Some people think that Kokoy won't stop until she's installed as president.''

In the early years of her marriage to Ferdinand Marcos, then a representative in the National Assembly, Imelda was the traditional housewife, administering the family home and its staff of 35. But she also proved to be a formidable political campaigner for her husband.

Then, during the martial law years -- her husband, by this time President, declared martial law in September 1972 and lifted it in January 1981 -- Mrs. Marcos developed a tremendous appetite for power, some leaders of the ruling Movement for a New Society (KBL) say.

She also developed a strong political base: the Ministry for Human Settlements. The ministry gradually annexed the functions of other ministries and became a powerful source of political patronage.

Personal ambitions have been reinforced by the ambitions of those around her. They include senior military men associated with Gen. Fabian Ver. General Ver is the armed forces chief of staff who is currently on leave while he stands trial as an accomplice in the Aquino murder.

``There is a tendency for generals closely involved with Ver to read their futures in terms of her continued power,'' says a Cabinet minister. He says the generals include Army commander Josephus Ramas; her brother-in-law, Brig. Gen. Edon Yap; and the commander of the Army's powerful second division, Roland Pattugalan.

The possibility of succession by the First Lady is an American nightmare. One qualified observer predicts that Congress would probably oppose economic and military aid to the Marcos government, and the country's internal politics would become totally unstable, he says.

Some KBL politicians feel the same way -- though their concern is often colored by their own presidential ambitions. One of the ministers interviewed for this article, for example, predicts that her candidacy would be the end of the party. ``Even if the President does get the KBL to accept her, the people never will,'' he says.

Most observers feel that the President will ultimately back her as the only person who can be totally trusted to protect the family, its fortunes, and its name. 4 Could Washington pressure Marcos to keep his wife out of the picture?

Probably not, says a minister who is a longtime Marcos associate and would dearly like to see the First Lady removed from the running. ``Marcos is a leader of very great dignity. He's all wired up to resist American intervention. It would take more than discreet hints for the US to exercise influence. And bluntness would beget a similar response.''

Some of Mrs. Marcos's rivals in the KBL are trying to persuade the President of the dangers of allowing his wife to follow him. But opportunities to put this sort of word in the President's ear appear to be rare. Few people are said to have regular access to, and influence with, the President. These include Kokoy Romualdez, General Ver, and General Ramas. And, of course, Mrs. Marcos.

One potential rival is trying another tack. He is appealing to Mrs. Marcos's self-interest. The bottom line for her, he muses, is the safety of her family and her finances. ``To enjoy her considerable fortune, she has to be healthy and free'' after the President goes. ``The Shah, for example, was not able to enjoy his.''

He suggests that a more popular KBL candidate -- such as himself -- could still win an election and would thus be able to protect Mrs. Marcos and her family. 5 But as long as the President is around, he has the authority to charm or coerce KBL members into line behind his wife. ``All she needs is the President's silence,'' said Leonie Perez, minister of political affairs and longtime Marcos associate. If Mrs. Marcos's political plans become apparent and Marcos does not move to dissuade her, Perez said, the party will assume he is behind her.

If the President does for some reason decide against his wife as a successor, some KBL sources say, he will turn to a reliable proxy.

``Someone who is loyal, acceptable to the party, and a good governor, though not greater than the President -- a tractable, competent mediocrity,'' says one minister with presidential ambitions. ``Perhaps Prime Minister [C'esar] Virata or [Deputy Premier] Jose Rono.''

He omitted himself from the list. The writer recently returned from the Philippines

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