Aquino-Laurel split could rankle military

The split between Corazon Aquino and her vice-president, which broke into the open Wednesday, could further force the Philippines President into appeasing a restless military. Although Salvador Laurel remains vice-president, Mrs. Aquino sacked him from his Cabinet post as secretary of foreign affairs Wednesday.

The Philippines has a history of vice-presidents breaking with their incumbent leaders. This time, however, the move is considered potentially dangerous by Aquino officials, because vice-president Laurel so openly sides with the military.

Aquino's security officials claim the vice-president was ready to back rebel military officers during the Aug. 28 coup attempt. They say he had actually prepared an acceptance speech, believing he would take over as President.

Rather than denouncing the coup attempt by over 1,000 soldiers and officers, Mr. Laurel called for the administration to listen to the rebels' demands for reform in the military. With the President's permission, he started touring military camps to talk to soldiers, but he ended up asking provocative questions that elicited anti-Aquino sentiments before television cameras.

``The trip was a disaster for us,'' says Emmanuel Soriano, chairman of the President's Crisis Committee.

Laurel claims he broke with Aquino because she was not being decisive enough in fighting communist guerrillas and was not giving the military clear guidelines on a counterinsurgency program.

Unless she changes her management of the government efforts against the outlawed Communist Party of the Philippines, Laurel has said, Aquino will not last out her term of office, because the military will revolt again.

Aquino went on television Wednesday, soon after Laurel announced he was out of the Cabinet. She asserted her anti-insurgency policy is a ``combination of military offensive, respect for democratic processes, and support for economic programs that will uplift our people.''

Yesterday Aquino apparently decided to confront Laurel on his loyalty. She invited him to the presidential palace, along with his three brothers, who represent a powerful political dynasty that controls a large area south of Manila.

Aquino also invited members of her own political clan from a province north of Manila. Included was the mother of Aquino's slain husband, Benigno Aquino, who is close to the vice-president.

Laurel ran as vice-president with Aquino in the Feb. 7, 1986, presidential election on the opposition slate against former President Ferdinand Marcos. But Laurel had relented not to run for president himself only after pressure from his three brothers.

In return for Laurel's taking the second slot, Aquino promised him that he could run the government. But Laurel has been largely ostracized from Aquino's inner circle ever since coming to power and has often publicly sided with the opposition on certain issues.

The anti-Marcos political party that Laurel founded in the early 1980s, Unido, has since lost many of its members. Laurel has found himself with a slowly eroding political base, something that could hurt him in his plans to run for president in 1992.

The Aquino-Laurel split is seen as putting pressure on the President to remove the so-called ``leftists'' in her government. Along with the sacking of Laurel, Aquino also announced three other Cabinet officials would be leaving: the secretaries of finance, immigration, and customs.

Other Cabinet changes are planned in coming days, but the major one will likely be the removal of Aquino's executive secretary, Joker Arroyo, a former human-rights lawyer who openly criticizes the military.

Where Aquino puts Mr. Arroyo, and who replaces him, is expected to greatly influence the direction of her government, as well as the perception of her leadership by disgruntled elements in the military.

The estrangement between the nation's two top leaders has also heightened concern among some Aquino aides over how to thwart any possible assassination attempts. They say many right-wing politicians were behind the Aug. 28 military coup attempt.

``The way things are developing,'' according to one United States official here, ``events in the Philippines are coming down to that sole option for her most ardent opposition: assassination.''

As with a similar political and military crisis last November, Aquino appears to be using this instance as an opportunity to remove controversial Cabinet members and replace them with quiet-spoken businessmen and professionals.

``She wants to create a team, a group of people who won't go shooting their mouths off - at each other,'' says Crisis Committee chairman Soriano.

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