Vote in Senate On US Bases Irks Filipino Military

PHILIPPINE Army rebel Abraham Purugganan says the political tumult over retaining an American naval base shows the government of President Corazon Aquino "is crumbling."But another coup is not likely soon, predicts the imprisoned former Army major. Instead, Mr. Purugganan has become an emissary in an initiative to negotiate the surrender of other renegade rebels, reunite the military and, senior officers say, eliminate the threat of future uprisings. Purugganan - who joined a 1987 coup and later spearheaded the 1989 takeover of Manila's financial district that almost toppled Aquino - says he and other dissidents no longer vow to overthrow the president before the end of her term next May. Predicting his own release by next year, the 34-year-old rebel says he is taking a wait-and-see stance as the 1992 national election approaches. "This government has gone from bad to worse. Why should we negotiate with a lame-duck government?" Purugganan asked in an interview at military headquarters, where he is jailed. "But if we could have a breathing spell, a good start for the next government to come, why not?" Fractured and battered by corruption and coups, the Philippine armed forces is in a delicate passage that observers say will shape the country's military and political future. The bitter debate over a new lease for the United States Subic Bay Naval Station, rejected by the Philippine Senate Sept. 16, has thrust the military into the political forefront, say analysts, who are mixed on the danger it poses. Worried about losing $100 million in US military aid while financing an ambitious modernization program, Armed Forces Chief Lisandro Abadia issued strong-worded warnings against refusing the treaty. Together, the release of 29 detained lieutenants earlier this month and the internal military negotiations to end disunity have stirred fears that the military command may link with pro-US dissidents to launch a new uprising, say Philippine analysts and some foreign diplomats. "The military is definitely upset without the treaty. They can kiss their modernization plans goodbye," says an Asian diplomat. "If the economic problems get bad enough, they could move." Military officials insist their aim is to restore stability and rebuild the armed forces. Still, the military command says it will hold the anti-base senators to a commitment to upgrade the ill-equiped armed forces. The senators who voted against the treaty called it a blessing in disguise, since they will now be more sympathetic to funding for the military, says Army Chief Arturo Enrile. "These things remain to be seen." Felipe Miranda, a military specialist at the University of the Philippines, says the political uncertainty and Aquino's declining credibility could bolster the popularity of former Col. Gregorio Honasan and other dissidents. Rather than launch coups, he says, military men could get involved in the political process. Already, former Gen. Fidel Ramos, who took part in the 1986 Army revolt against the late President Ferdinand Marcos and then stood by Aquino through seven coup attempts, is considered a front-runner to succeed the president. Even the charismatic Colonel Honasan is being urged to run for public office by politicians and businessmen who once funded coups, military rebels say. Some analysts think he could win. "There is a gut feeling among military men at all levels that the 1992 election is critical," Mr. Miranda says. "The civilian leadership must make this election work in terms of its results." Indeed, senior officers, who say an overall deal could be finalized by the end of the year, admit they are taking a gamble on Honasan and the other rebels. Under the offer, all junior officers implicated in the coup attempts would be released and allowed back into the military, although senior officers would have to face court martial. Amnesty is not in the plans now, but could be offered under the next president, military officials say. While in other countries mutineers are punished swiftly and severely, senior officers in the Philippines say harsh measures can backfire due to strong fraternal loyalty among officers. "We are taking a big risk," says a senior officer. "But these are difficult times for the country. It is time for bold steps." Complicating the process is a lack of consensus among the rebels. Older dissidents are more willing to compromise because of economic problems and pressures from their families, military observers say. The issue of the US military presence also has reinforced differences. While Honasan is said to favor an extension for Subic Bay, younger officers such as Purugganan are more nationalistic and are angry that US air power helped save Aquino in 1989. "I think it's high time for the US bases to go," says Purugganan. "Cory Aquino has become more of an American girl fighting for the interest of America, trying to bungle the Constitution for the sake of America." Purugganan and other young officers also push a radical political agenda to deal with land reform, the alleviation of poverty, and the eradication of corruption in the military and government.

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