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Crumbling revolt only helps Aquino solidify rule

The unflappable President Corazon Aquino turned back a challenge from right-wing forces Monday during a drama which, at the least, gave many slum-dwellers a chance to sleep at the poshest hotel in the Philippines. But the act of defiance by about 300 military renegades -- followers of deposed President Ferdinand Marcos and led by Mr. Marcos's running mate Arturo Tolentino -- has only helped consolidate Mrs. Aquino's influence over the armed forces, according to Western diplomats.

In just five months, the Philippines has gone from being a country whose civilian leadership had never been challenged by the military to one that has experienced two military revolts. The first launched Aquino into power last February, while the second barely moved outside the Manila Hotel. Many Filipinos hope this will be the last.

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The hotel standoff, sparked on Sunday by Mr. Tolentino's proclaiming himself acting president until Marcos returns, was orchestrated with at least five of Marcos's former top commanders (since demoted) who had been banking on the help of Aquino's defense minister, Juan Ponce Enrile.

After being Marcos's defense minister for two decades, Mr. Enrile led the February rebellion, and Marcos loyalists have been trying to woo him back ever since. He has also been the subject of coup plot rumors, despite his verbal allegiance to Aquino. Leaders of the crumbling revolt say that either Enrile or those close to him had given encouragement to the former top brass to bring 300 soldiers to the hotel in support for Tolentino.

``We thought we would be supported by everybody, like in the February revolution,'' said Col. Dicatador Alqueza, one of the rebels, speaking from the Manila Hotel.

With the President out of the capital and Vice-President Salvador Laurel in Spain, it was the defense minister who took to the airwaves to assure the nation that Aquino would still be in power.

Were the revolt leaders betrayed? ``Yes,'' said Colonel Alqueza.

Most of the 300 lower-ranking soldiers, many of whom now say they thought they were joining a revolt with Enrile, surrendered yesterday when they found out Enrile was still loyal to Aquino.

By last night, Tolentino was forced to negotiate with a panel led by the same ex-general, Rafael Ileto, who was the much-respected broker between Marcos and Enrile in February and who helped save many Filipino lives by his astute diplomacy. Mr. Ileto convinced Tolentino to surrender by early this morning.

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The large crowd that surrounded and entered the hotel during the crisis represented a spectrum of Filipino society either alienated by Aquino's actions or extremely loyal to Marcos.

Many slum-dwellers, including prostitutes, at the hotel were expressing their ``debt of gratitute'' to Marcos for the dole he passed out during election time. Others are upset at being fired from government jobs after Marcos was opposed, while still others resent Aquino's almost wholesale replacement of the nation's governors, mayors, and legislators.

For Tolentino, a respected 75-year-old constitutional expert, the cause was Aquino's junking of the Marcos constitution of 1973. But for the anti-Aquino soldiers, the cause of revolt lies in the talks with the Philippine Communist Party. The talks, which opened last week, are seen by many military men as dangerous to the nation and a setback to their effort to end a 17-year communist insurgency.

While Aquino's main political battles are with the left, the hotel crisis precipitated a simmering problem with so-called Marcos loyalists. It also flushed out the key former military commanders who might have always remained a threat to the government. (Some ex-commanders face charges of graft and human rights abuses.)

Marcos's role in the events is unclear. Tolentino claims Marcos endorsed the Tolentino oath-taking, which, if true, could force the Reagan administration to make good on its threat to expel Marcos if he tries to overthrow the Aquino government from his exile in Hawaii.

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