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Marcos offers mild concessions

The softer political mood of President Ferdinand Marcos in recent days can be seen as a fruit of the unprecedented demonstrations in Manila against his rule. The regularity of the demonstrations and the violence of some of them have had the world watching the Philippines and wondering whether Marcos's government is facing imminent collapse.

Yet the demonstrations themselves, and Marcos's yielding to some demands of his opponents, does not necessarily suggest victory for the opposition leaders.

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Marcos's moves do indicate a softening of his previously uncompromising stance vis-a-vis the opposition groups' demands.

First, he has decided to reconstitute the commission investigating the Aug. 21 assassination of opposition leader Benigno Aquino, the event which triggered the current rash of protests. The opposition and Aquino's own family have doubted the commission's credibility, and it never started a proper investigation. Its originally appointed head and four members have resigned, leaving their work at a standstill.

The second conciliatory move from Marcos is an announcement that the government is now considering the province or district as the basic representation area for the 1984 National Assembly election. In previous elections, voting for parliamentary seats has been on a broader, regional representation basis.

Opposition political parties complained that with regional voting, only Marcos's ruling party, the New Society Movement, has the organizational and financial machinery to launch a campaign in such large areas. An opposition party official said with campaigning on a provincial or district basis, the fragmented opposition could compete more effectively.

The opposition continues to be a splintered and unconvincing alternative to the Marcos regime. In dealing with them over the years, Marcos had used classical carrot-and-stick tactics with such skill that any opposition leader either was manageable or eventually was removed from active politics.

As yet, no platform of government has been put forward by anyone in the opposition. No plan of action has emerged for the transfer of power, and there is no opposition leader who commands a broad, popular following. A group of young businessmen recently walked out on an opposition meeting after demanding an outline of plans for the future and being simply told that ''Marcos should resign.''

The current rash of anti-Marcos demonstrations is being led from a number of inter-related opposition quarters. The Justice for Aquino, Justice for All (JAJA) movement, formed shortly after the death of Aquino, is at the center of activities and claims the role of overall coordinator of protest actions. It was responsible for the largest rally to have taken place, with a crowd estimated between 100,000 and 500,000 turning up for a ''national day of sorrow.'' The day was exactly a month after Aquino's assassination and was also the anniversary of the declaration of martial law by Marcos in 1972.

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JAJA claims the membership of over 90 civic, religious, professional, labor, and student organizations, and the affiliation of the two major opposition political parties - the United Nationalist and Democratic Organization (UNIDO) and the Pilipino Democratic Party - Lakas Ng Bayan (PDP-Laban).

The emergence of JAJA has been hailed as the beginning of unity among the traditional, non-radical opposition in the Philippines. But it has become evident that despite the great opportunity for unity presented by the overwhelming turnouts in rallies, the opposition has not closed ranks.

One cynic in Marcos's administration said of the opposition leaders: ''We'll take them seriously when they can organize a press conference.''

The remark pointed to failure by the leadership of JAJA and of UNIDO to coordinate activities. Each group recently conducted separate, simultaneous press conferences following one of the rallies. In another instance, former Senator Jose Diokno, one of the organizers of JAJA, was scheduled to speak in an open forum at the University of the Philippines at the same time that the university students were holding a rally downtown.

The prospects for the opposition are evidently not good. The most optimistic outcome of the demonstrations they have organized are the few concessions that Marcos has given in order to keep his regime going. If Marcos stays around - contrary to rumors that he is terminally ill - it would do the opposition good if they could sustain the high anti-government sentiments until a viable alternative emerges.

But if the protests were to bring Marcos down, or if he were to suddenly leave the scene, it is anyone's guess who or what would replace him. The likelihood that the small Communist Party of the Philippines and its guerrilla arm, the New People's Army, or any other radical group could make a serious bid for power is too remote for consideration.

Judging from Marcos's conciliatory moves in the last few days, some observers here suspect he may not have entirely lost his shrewd political sense. It appears that at least he has noticed the intensity of anti-government sentiment among the millions of Manilans who have turned up in the rallies.

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