Aquino's challenge to insurgents

IT is easy to understand why Philippine President Corazon Aquino finds it necessary to step up military operations against communist and other insurgents. The increasing number of rebel incidents - on the political left and right - represent a serious challenge to Mrs. Aquino's presidency as well as to Philippine stability. Yet, it must also be regretted that Aquino now feels it necessary to seek a military, as opposed to diplomatic, solution to the challenge. ``I want this victory,'' she told military commanders recently, underscoring her commitment to an all-out campaign to crush rebellion during the next five years of her presidential term. Coming just a year after assuming that country's highest office, the shift to a military posture represents a clear change of direction for Aquino, who has repeatedly stressed national reconciliation and unity. The new policy also emerges against a backdrop of economic renewal for her nation, which should help to ameliorate the hardship and dissatisfaction which engenders insurgency.

What prompted President Aquino to go the military route now? Was it merely in deference to Washington, which has been pushing her to take more vigorous action? Granted, that may be part of the equation. The Philippine military continues to be largely dependent on the United States for arms and aid. And Aquino knows that remaining in office during the years ahead to an extent depends on the continuing goodwill of the Philippine defense establishment and business community.

Still, it would be unwise to make too much out of any momentary personal advantage for Aquino in turning to the military. She has repeatedly proven herself to be a woman driven by deep conviction and enormous courage. The most likely reason for the new shift is a growing recognition on her part that insurgents now represent a genuine threat to Philippine society. As she notes, it was the communists, not the government, that refused to renew peace talks. Further, rebel attacks have sharply intensified. The attacks are probably linked to the modest economic growth now expected during 1987, following two years of downturn. Insurgent leaders know that time is on Aquino's side. Thus, they can be expected to assume that they must act now or see their own options overtaken.

Mrs. Aquino must walk an increasingly difficult road between her goals of economic and political reform and battlefield victory over insurgents. Ferdinand Marcos, who came to office two decades back talking of ``reform,'' finally became as much the captive as proponent of a military solution. President Magsaysay, back in the 1950s, managed to promote both reform and military action against rebels. For the well-being of her country, Aquino must successfully walk the Magsaysay roadway. In the long-run, after all, Philippine insurgency, like insurgency elsewhere, will be defeated not on the field of combat, but in the hearts and minds of the Filipino people.

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