Marcos's delay of military revamp slims chances for free election

President Ferdinand Marcos and Gen. Fabian Ver will apparently keep a tight grip on the Philippine armed forces during the present election campaign. This further pares down the chances for a clean election. When General Ver, the President's kinsman and confidant, was reinstated as chief of staff in early December, President Marcos hinted that the general's return to office would be brief and would be accompanied by a major reshuffle of the armed forces.

Sources close to the Reagan administration implied that such an arrangement -- revamp in return for reinstatement -- would make Ver's return palatable. Over the last 20 years, Ver has turned the armed forces into a tightly controlled body dedicated to preserving the President's political power. One of its regular tasks allegedly has been to help rig elections. A military revamp -- even without Ver's retirement -- would, it was hoped, weaken Ver's creation.

But Marcos announced recently that the expected military reshuffle would take place only after the Feb. 7 elections. And there is no sign that Ver will retire. In fact, he and his supporters have played a major role in the 17-member board that was set up to discuss personnel and structural change in the armed forces.

Ver supporters predominated on the board, which was appointed on Dec. 3. They included Maj. Gen. Prospero Olivas, Ver's codefendant in the murder trial of opposition leader Benigno Aquino Jr.

Opposition sources, reformist officers inside the armed forces, and the United States have all called for a cleanup of the armed forces. The most commonly demanded changes include the replacement of senior commanders and the retirement of the approximately 26 generals and flag officers who have stayed on past retirement age.

Some changes have taken place in the past month, but none of them have diluted Ver's control over the military. The Navy commander, Rear Adm. Simeon Alejandro, was replaced early this month by his deputy, Commodore Brillante Ochoco.

The new Navy chief, like his predecessor, is considered to be an unconditional supporter of Ver. Commodore Ochoco served under Ver for much of the 1970s as an intelligence officer in the National Intelligence Security Authority. Last year, when Ver was indicted for conspiracy to murder Aquino, Ochoco reportedly organized a petition of generals pledging their support for Ver. Since then he has been openly critical of officers who have called for reform in the armed forces. And Ochoco, a graduate of the 1 955 class of the Philippines Military Academy, may himself be an overstaying officer.

Neither the Ochoco appointment nor another important change made recently -- the transfer of Brig. Gen. Isidoro de Guzman to Central Luzon -- were referred to the revamp board, a member of that body says.

Gen. Manuel Cabal (ret.), in an interview shortly before Christmas, noted that the board was given little authority to examine personnel changes. The board was not invited to nominate a new chief of staff, General Cabal said. The discussion of personnel changes was ``mostly in the hands of Ver and his staff,'' he noted. And, he added, board members had been reminded of the President's right -- decreed while the country was still under martial law -- personally to approve military appointments from the l evel of provincial commander or battalion commander on up.

Moreover, structural changes recommended by the board would probably make the chief of staff ``even more important,'' Cabal said. If the recommendations are accepted, he added, ``the regional unified commander will call all the shots.''

The system of ``regional unified commands'' created by Ver in 1983 was widely seen as reinforcing his position in relation to that of his rival, Gen. Fidel Ramos. Soon after the system was introduced, both General Ramos and Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile offered to resign.

If the board's recommendations are followed, Cabal says, the Philippines constabulary -- at present commanded by Ramos -- will be even more firmly subordinated to the regional unified commands. This change, Cabal said, was being made in the interests of more effective counterinsurgency operations.

Cabal said that the board had completed its deliberations by the agreed deadline of Dec. 23. The government did not explain why Marcos had decided to defer action on the board's recommendations until after the election.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.