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Aquino faces task of moving `revolution' beyond Manila

The so-called revolution that catapulted President Corazon Aquino to power in February has proved to be mainly Manila-deep, rather than nationwide. Philippine military leaders, in assessing the first 100 days of the Aquino government, report increasing political instability in the 7,100-island archipelago -- measured in part by a 9 percent increase so far this year in the number of areas influenced by communist or Muslim insurgents.

Although the situation remains ``well under control,'' the military leaders warn that if political and economic instability persists, the new government may not win back the large number of Filipinos who still support the rebels or who fail to help the government suppress the insurgency.

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``It is urgently vital to generate a greater degree of support and participation of local governments and grass-roots institutions in the counterinsurgency and public-safety campaign,'' says Gen. Fidel Ramos, chief of staff of the New Armed Forces of the Philippines.

In February, General Ramos helped lead the military revolt that brought Mrs. Aquino to power. Yesterday, he convened top military commanders to assess Aquino's ``first 100 days.''

Particularly worrisome to the military is the inability of Aquino-appointed governors, mayors, and local officials to come to grips with a new communist drive on the ``psychological front'' (anti-Aquino propaganda). The rebels have taken advantage of the ``prevailing liberal atmosphere'' under Aquino, Ramos says.

Unlike what happened in February on a tide of ``people's power,'' Aquino has had to push the ``revolution'' down from above by appointing new local officials to replace Marcos-supported ones. Often, in areas where the locally elected official remains popular, this has meant installing a new officer in charge with military support, since incumbents barricade themselves in their offices.

The political uncertainty of many new officials has only served to weaken their ability to bring Aquino-style reform to a nation of 55 million people still generally untouched by events in Manila.

Thus, whatever success the government has had in ``extending the hand of friendship'' to the rebels, as Ramos puts it, has been piecemeal. Some 1,200 rebels have ``returned to the fold of the law,'' he said -- a small number, measured against the estimated 16,000 in the communist New People's Army.

The potential for more ``returnees'' is great, the military believes, but wooing them with promises of jobs or pocket money is beyond the budget of a deeply indebted government, although some private money has been raised. Local military commanders have been ordered to seek reconciliation with rebels, but, says Ramos, they await more ``people's support'' before taking action.

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Military leaders say they have been busy removing ``undesirable vestiges'' of the old regime, including probing ill-gotten wealth and corruption in the military. Even before reforms can get off the ground, Ramos says, the military must ``get out of a big black hole'' Marcos left.

Meanwhile, Aquino aides have been seeking talks with top leaders of the Communist Party (CPP). The CPP, chastised by some of its own followers for calling for a boycott of the Feb. 7 election that led to Marcos's overthrow, appears hesitant and perhaps divided over how to respond to Aquino's overtures.

In a nationwide televised address yesterday, Aquino told Filipinos: ``There is no instant revolution. I never promised you snap solutions.''

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