Job or no job, Ver fights to protect his influence in Philippine armed forces

Gen. Fabian Ver -- bodyguard, relative, and alter ego of President Ferdinand Marcos -- is fighting to protect his influence in the Philippine armed forces. President Marcos has said that if General Ver is acquitted of conspiracy to kill opposition leader Benigno Aquino, he will be reinstated as armed forces chief of staff. (The verdict in the trial is expected today.)

But, aware of the uproar an acquittal might arouse both in the United States and the Philippines, Marcos has hinted that Ver may retire after only a brief period back in office. Many US officials have been anticipating the trial's outcome, which they say will provide an indication of whether Marcos has carried out political reform. These officials would see Ver's return to office as a sign that no such reform has taken place.

Losing the chief-of-staff post would reduce Ver's power but not destroy it. What seems clear is that as long as Marcos is in office, Ver will remain a powerful figure, either behind the scenes or on center stage.

Even if he steps down as chief of staff, Ver will probably remain director general of the country's largest intelligence agency, the National Security and Intelligence Authority, senior government officials say. Only the most far-reaching cleanup of the armed forces of the Philippines would break up the power base that Ver has built over the last 20 years, these officials say.

Ver is expected to retain his nearly unmatched access to President Marcos. (Ver has, in fact, continued to live on the grounds of the presidential palace since taking leave as chief of staff in October 1984, when he was implicated in the August 1983 murder of Aquino.)

Marcos recently promised to replace many of the senior commanders of the armed forces. This will probably not greatly affect Ver. Government sources, both military and civilian, say that Ver is playing a key role in planning the change.

Much depends on what happens in coming months to two other pillars of Ver's power base: the intelligence community and the Regional Unified Commands, which place overall control of the armed forces in each of the country's 12 regions under the control of a single officer -- almost invariably a Ver appointee.

If Ver does remain as head of the country's intelligence authority, his dominance of the country's security and intelligence organizations will be assured.

His sons already dominate the elite Presidential Security Command. Formerly a small, largely ceremonial unit, the command has grown under Marcos and Ver into a well-equipped and important military command with its own impressive intelligence-gathering capacity.

The security command under Marcos and Ver has also become a pool for politically reliable officers who are then placed into other key positions nationwide.

The Regional Unified Commands are also dominated by Ver appointees, several of them former senior officers in the Presidential Security Command.

Without the replacement of such officers by more impartial and professional soldiers, observers believe, General Ver's influence will remain intact -- and it will be very difficult to have clean presidential elections next February.

Ver's adversaries in the government and armed forces are hoping for a gradual erosion of his overweening influence. Political clout in the Philippines depends to a large degree on the ability of a figure to dispense patronage, they note.

``Once Ver loses the power to sign [promotion] papers,'' a senior figure in Marcos's ruling party predicted, ``his following will begin to drop off.''

Meanwhile, government officials say, there is intense lobbying among various palace factions on the issue of a successor to Ver as chief of staff.

Imelda Marcos, the President's wife, and her influential brother Benjamin (Kokoy) Romualdez are said to favor Gen. Josephus Ramas, the commander of the Philippine Army.

Ramas, like Mrs. Marcos, comes from the Visayas region in the central Philippines.

Ver may also favor Ramas, who has long been one of his closest associates in the military.

But military sources say that the relationship between the two men may recently have cooled somewhat: To Ver's reported irritation, Ramas has been showing signs of growing personal ambition.

Ramas has other problems. He and the other two service commanders -- collec-tively known as ``the three stooges'' by reform-minded officers -- are way past retirement age. They are also thought to be high on the list of generals that the US wants to see removed.

Government leaders opposed to Ver have made their own suggestions for the top military commands. If all the long-term generals are retired, they say, the next in line for chief of staff will be Brig. Gen. Jose Magno, who currently commands the Central Luzon sector.

General Magno is viewed by anti-Ver military men as generally acceptable, although Central Luzon commanders are rarely free from the political influence of one of the most powerful men in the country -- Eduardo Cojuangco, an intimate associate of the President and a possible vice-presidential candidate.

Among other names put forward for senior positions after any house-cleaning are Gen. Roland Pattugalan, commander of the important Second Army Division; Gen. Jose Zumel, superintendant of the Philippines Military Academy; and Gen. Renato Devilla.

General Pattugalan is believed to be related to the President by marriage; he is also a former aide to Ver, but is said recently to have had contacts with the anti-Ver armed forces reform group.

General Zumel is a former bodyguard of Mrs. Marcos, and the brother of a leader of the underground Communist Party of the Philippines. (General Zumel is raising his revolutionary brother's children.)

General Devilla is just about the only Regional Unified Commands commander who is close to Gen. Fidel Ramos, the acting chief of staff.

It is generally expected that General Ramos, another relative of the President but a rival of Ver, will be retired simultaneously with his old adversary.

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