Aquino puts personality above party politics in Philippines

Philippine President Corazon Aquino plans to have political coattails without the coat. Mrs. Aquino said yesterday that she will not form her own political party for legislative and local elections next year. Rather, the President says she will rely on her popularity to pick and choose her favorite candidates from the array of parties vying for those seats. ``Maybe I will just call them `Cory candidates,' '' she said. The decision is expected to send shockwaves through the fluid political situation in the Philippines, as the Aquino government tries to restore democracy.

At least 10 old and new parties are still staking out their turf seven months after the collapse of the Marcos regime, which was largely dominated by former President Ferdinand Marcos's party, the New Society Movement. The one constant is that each party is aligning itself with Mrs. Aquino's still-evolving policies: whether left, right, or right behind.

Her decision goes against the advice of many local pundits and foreign observers who contend that any national leader -- short of a dictator -- needs a national political party to keep track of public opinion and to gather support for programs.

Aquino gave no reasons for her decision, but it was not completely unexpected, considering her history.

For most of her life, she has shown little relish for normal Filipino politics, which is often likened to a cockfight, the national sport. Her first taste of campaigning came in 1955, and it was not pleasant for a woman born to an upper-class family. She helped her husband, Benigno Aquino Jr., run for mayor of Concepcion, and was shocked when strangers began to come into her house, dirty her clean towels, tell her how to cook, and instruct her on how to diaper her baby.

And that early mayoral campaign was organized as a vendetta against a prominent political family.

In 1971, when Benigno Aquino was a leader of the Liberal Party and Mr. Marcos's most promising challenger, a bomb went off at a party rally, presumably meant for her husband. He escaped injury because he was late to the rally.

In 1978, when her husband was in jail under Marcos, Mrs. Aquino helped him organize a new party, Laban (which means ``fight''), to run for legislative seats in Metro Manila. The party was trounced by the political machine of then-Metro Manila governor, Imelda Marcos.

After her husband's assassination in 1983, Mrs. Aquino preferred to play the role of a behind-the-scenes powerbroker and unifier of contending opposition parties, although she stayed close to her husband's old party, which had united with a southern-based party to become PDP-Laban.

But her husband's martyrdom, her own sincerity, and the lack of a popular opposition leader eventually thrust her into running against Marcos in this year's Feb. 7 presidential election. There was a hitch, however: To get the last remaining presidential contender, Salvador Laurel, to be No. 2 on the ticket, she had to agree to run officially under the banner of his political party, Unido.

Thus, Aquino has ties to several existing parties, and perhaps affinity toward none. In addition, in her drive to reconcile the nation, both left and right, she may believe that an Aquino party would only create more divisions. Elections for Congress are expected by May, and for mayors and governors at the same time or later in 1987 -- assuming voters approve a proposed constitution, now being drafted, in a plebicite expected by December.

Political divisions are already acute, although tactical alliances between some parties are expected.

On the extreme right is the New Society Movement, a remnant of its old self and led by men still largely loyal to Marcos, who is exiled in Hawaii. On the extreme left is the Partido ng Bayan (People's Party), formed in August by communist leaders and other leftists -- many of them former political detainees released by Aquino.

In between, the socialist PDP-Laban has developed an extensive grass-roots recruitment drive, while Unido remains more an elitist, right-of-center party. Members of both parties form the vast majority of those appointed by Aquino as ``officers-in-charge'' for the posts of mayors and governors replacing Marcos-era officials.

The two parties which were dominant before Marcos declared martial law in 1972 were the Liberal and Nationalist parties. The Liberals have split into two factions, each dominated by a prominant politician. The Nationalist Party is being revived, led by a close associate of Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile.

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