Manila: for now, it's a Philippine honeymoon
AFTER a month of Aquino rule in the Philippines, we are confirming what we suspected before the election, namely that the shift in power is not the solution to that troubled nation's problems, but merely a new beginning. President Corazon Aquino clearly continues to enjoy immense personal popularity. Many, at this stage, are prepared to give her the benefit of the doubt. The questions being raised by more skeptical observers are no more than the questions they raised before her ascendancy. For example, to whom is a hitherto unknown and inexperienced Mrs. Aquino turning for political counsel? What is her attitude to the communists? What is her true position on the United States bases?
The answers to these questions will undoubtedly become clearer over the weeks. But at a time when she should be enjoying an untrammeled political honeymoon, there is an unusual amount of eyebrow-raising, both inside and outside the Philippines, over what she has and has not done thus far.
The three major moves of her administration to date have been to launch a major campaign to discredit former President Marcos, to free political prisoners including communist leaders, and to abolish the National Assembly and assume extensive political power until the advent of a new constitution.
Given the traumatic discovery of the extent to which the Marcos family had plundered the country, enlightening the people about this was understandable. But the long lines parading through Mrs. Marcos's closets and Mr. Marcos's bedroom seemed to take on a voyeuristic character after a while. Did the emphasis on Marcos-bashing and the problems of the past take priority over some of the urgent decisions that needed to be taken on problems of the future?
Some Filipinos and Americans feel that the accent should now be on a businesslike investigation of Marcos -- and that carnival time is over.
There is also reportedly some testiness in Manila with the prominent role of New York Democratic Congressman Stephen J. Solarz. Mr. Solarz has been one of the foremost US critics and pursuers of Marcos. The considerable publicity he has garnered in this role may further his ambition to become a Democratic secretary of state one day. The concern of some Filipinos is that Solarz is exploiting the Marcos issue for political gain at home.
Meanwhile, Aquino had to brush aside military objections when she decided to include communist leaders among those political prisoners she released. Just how this will play out remains to be seen. The communist guerrillas in the hills seem mindful of Aquino's personal popularity but have declined to lay down their arms, and they have continued their attacks on government forces.
Then there is Aquino's imposition of a revolutionary government, to sidestep the National Assembly that had declared Marcos President.
Speedy work has been promised on a new constitution and new elections. But meantime, there is much jousting over who should hold local offices across the Philippines. Many of these incumbents are Marcos beneficiaries, and the question is whether they should now be replaced by Aquino appointees.
Thus the Aquino administration is pressured on the one hand by the inclination to clean house, but on the other by the fact that there is legitimate political opposition in the Philippines. Mr. Marcos may have stolen the election and manipulated the returns. Even so, there is a fair body of voters which genuinely did not support the Aquino-Laurel ticket, and Mrs. Aquino must recognize this political diversity and independence.
Meanwhile, the first foreign leader to visit her has been New Zealand Prime Minister David Lange. Mr. Lange has managed to cool his own country's relationship with the United States and all but torpedo the ANZUS Treaty between New Zealand, Australia, and the United States. But the American secretary of defense, Caspar Weinberger, is due to visit the Philippines soon and will undoubtedly offer Mrs. Aquino a more cordial view of cooperation with the United States.
Thus, although Aquino has the good wishes of many, she is learning that in politics the honeymoon is often short-lived.