Aquino plans Cabinet shifts. Row with military over officials' policies sparks proposal
As a result of a confrontation with some top military officers last week, Philippines President Corazon Aquino has agreed to make changes in her Cabinet, according to top defense officials. The challenge to Mrs. Aquino began Nov. 4 when a small group of military officers met at a party. There, these officers discussed plans to detain or arrest three top Aquino officials whom they consider as having links with the Communist Party of the Philippines, say these defense sources.
Those targeted include Presidential Executive Secretary Joker Arroyo, Local Goverment Minister Aquilino Pimental, and Labor Minister Augusto S'anchez.
A fourth official - also a target - is Natural Resources Minister Ernesto Maceda, alleged by these same military officials to be corrupt in his handling of the logging industry.
On Friday, Mrs. Aquino largely defused the plan, known as ``God Save the Queen,'' after separate meetings with Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile and Gen. Fidel Ramos, the armed forces chief of staff.
Also on Friday she told a Boston Globe interviewer: ``I can see the need for some adjustments [in the Cabinet]. I think it's just a matter of explaining further and touching on what may be the irritants [to the military].'' The statement was was quoted in the Boston Sunday Globe.
``We are a government composed of people who were of opposite camps not too long ago. It takes time to be able to understand each other, to trust one another's strategies,'' Aquino continued.
Aquino, however, has long planned to replace many Cabinet members after Feb. 2, when she expects voter approval of a proposed Constitution in a plebicite.
At least eight present ministers are likely to run for the Senate or House of Representatives in elections planned for May. Many are longtime politicians who helped Aquino organize the opposition's campaign against then-President Ferdinand Marcos in the Feb. 7 presidential elections.
To pay her political debts to them and to help them gain support for congressional elections, Aquino appointed them as ministers soon after she took power Feb. 26. Several of them are known to have presidential ambitions.
Rising disenchantment among a number of officers of the armed forces sparked rumors last week that the military, led by Defense Minister Enrile, would lead a coup against Aquino during her four-day visit to Japan, which was to begin today.
On her two previous trips abroad as President, Aquino also had to deal with rumors of a possible coup.
This arises from the events of Feb. 22-25, when the military shifted its allegiance from Mr. Marcos to Aquino and, for the first time in the Philippines, used the potential of its power against a civilian authority. Also, a band of officers and 300 soldiers took over the Manila Hotel for three days in July in a feeble challenge to the government.
For several months, Enrile, who sparked the February revolt, has escalated his public criticism of Aquino's legal legitamacy to be President and her antiinsurgency effectiveness.
In 1972, when he was defense minister for Marcos, Enrile staged a bomb attack on his own car, he has recently admitted. The incident was then used by Marcos to justify imposition of martial law.
Last week's crisis came to a head following a proposal Nov. 1 by the communist-led National Democratic Front for a 100-day cease-fire between the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the New People's Army (NPA). The cease-fire is to begin Dec. 10, which is Human Rights Day.
The military, which supports Aquino's cease-fire negotiation, demanded a 30-day renewable cease-fire, and other conditions to make sure that soldiers would not be vulnerable during a truce.
``The soldiers are the ones dying in the war against the communists,'' says one Aquino-appointed general, who is sympathetic to the group who planned the action against the ministers.
``Politicians come and go, but the soldiers will always have to fight. It is understandable that the Armed Forces will not be flexible on allowing leftist ministers to influence Aquino on compromises with the insurgents,'' the general said.
``Aquino is not the one being challenged,'' he added.
But on the eve of her departure to Japan, Aquino spoke before an international conference of dentists about the coup rumors. She criticized their impact on the world image of the Philippines in scaring away foreign investors and international aid.
``These rumors, fueled by a few self-appointed messiahs, who would want to dictate how this government shall be run, is an insult to the integrity of the majority of the `new' Armed Forces of the Philippines [AFP] that has tried to adhere to the highest standards of professionalism,'' she said.
``I will not let the new AFP ... be destroyed by a handful of misguided elements, if in fact they are planning to do anything.''
In case any military elements were planning action, Aquino ordered a full alert for the security staff around the presidential palace while she is gone. She ordered all military commanders to weed out any adventurists. And she threatened to hold massive street rallies against anyone who threatened her.
During the president's absence, her brother-in-law, Agapito ``Butz'' Aquino, who serves as ``blood symbol'' of the Aquino legacy, planned to sleep in the palace. And many ministers were planning not to live at their normal residences for a while.