Aquino heads off split with defense chief

Philippine President Corazon Aquino has averted a major split with Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile -- at least temporarily -- by agreeing to set a deadline for ceasefire negotiations with communist rebels. The agreement was clearly a victory for the powerful defense minister, diplomatic and political sources said. Mr. Enrile, one of the architects of the military revolt that brought Aquino to power in February, has been publicly demanding tougher action against the insurgents, who have battled the government for 17 years. (Is Aquino `soft' on rebels? Analysis, Page 10.)

A Cabinet meeting Oct. 22 was preceded by much speculation that Enrile might be fired or that he would resign. Instead, Enrile walked out smiling and told reporters, ``I'm going to my office.''

But, according to diplomatic and poltical analysts, the Aquino-Enrile ``truce'' may prove only temporary. The politically ambitious defense minister still poses a serious threat to Aquino's fragile nine-month-old government, they say.

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