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Reform movement in Philippine military chips at Marcos's power

The reform movement in the Philippine military shows President Ferdinand Marcos's loosening grip on the men in uniform. Dissent is flowering in the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), an institution he was thought to have full control of.

For several months some officers and enlisted men have been working together in a loose association. The reform group is pushing for initiatives that will restore the credibility of the military, gain popular support, lift morale of the men, improve their economic and physical welfare, and make them more effective on the battlefield.

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Specific reforms they seek include purging the AFP of ``undesirables,'' maintaining a high standard of discipline, effectively enforcing a merit system for promotions, restoring camaraderie and esprit de corps, and improving the management of the AFP's resources.

The reform movement is the second big development to thrust the military into the public eye. The first was the assassination of Benigno S. Aquino Jr. in August 1983. Twenty-six military men have been implicated in the assassination and are standing trial.

In a meeting with reformers late last month, President Marcos assured the military officers that reforms will take place. He encouraged them to document their complaints on corruption among high-ranking officers.

Yet some observers perceive Marcos to be uncomfortable with the reform movement brewing in the military. They say he is irked. He has reportedly said the movement is a reflection of the leadership of acting chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Fidel Ramos.

Ramos became acting chief of staff in October last year when Gen. Fabian Ver was indicted for alleged involvement in the Aquino murder.

Most of the reformers are graduates of the prestigious Philippine Military Academy. Many academy alumni are supportive of the movement and so are several retired officers. The highest rank represented in the movement is a full colonel.

The reformers made their public debut in March during the annual alumni parade at the military academy. They carried streamers bearing the words ``unity in reforms.''

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A month earlier, they issued their ``statement of common aspirations'' committing themselves to a ``strong and solid AFP that can uphold the sovereignty of the people and the state, and support the Constitution. . . .''

Some analysts see high military authorities latching on to the reform movement, particularly Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile and General Ramos. Both have given tacit support to the movement; both have met with the reformers and are said to have found their complaints legitimate.

Many who watch the military closely conclude that General Ver is a target of the reform movement. ``It is a move aimed at lessening the chances for the return of General Ver [as chief of staff],'' said one university-based political analyst.

Col. Erwin Ver, the No. 2 man in the Presidential Security Command and a son of General Ver, says he would like to be part of the movement but feels he is not welcome.

He says he agrees with the movement's call to change the image of the military, lift the morale of the soldiers, and put more teeth into the combat units.

``I like to see the movement prosper as a genuine one. We need a forum in the military for our grievances. . . . But it should not be based on [personal] loyalties and should not close its doors,'' he said.

Reaction to the reform movement here is mixed. Some political analysts are leery of the movement despite its avowedly upstanding goals. They say it is possible that its leaders could initiate a coup d'etat if the reforms they seek are unmet.

They fear no one may be able to control the movement once it gains strength.

Yet one member of the reform group says such fears are groundless. ``We are overestimated,'' says this Air Force officer in his mid-30s. ``Discussions of [seizing power] are taboo in our meetings.''

In a report to the President last April, Ramos said he was given ``unqualified assurance'' that the reform movement is founded on ``respect for law and the Constitution'' and that it will conduct its activities openly.

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