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Manila tremblings

THE recently begun ceasefire in the Philippines is seen by both the communists and the military as an opportunity for war, not peace. Both sides are sharpening their long knives, literally and figuratively, for the politically and armed struggle ahead. By itself the ceasefire has given the strategic advantage to the communists, whose propaganda machine is better oiled than the military's.

They will use the new ``democratic space'' to expand their political contacts among centrist elements, recruiting new members, and trying to further infiltrate the government, and developing foreign connections both for future material and ideological support.

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The military is in a more difficult position. It needs more than a 60-day ceasefire to put its fragmented house in order, especially after months of rumored coup attempts which reestablished in popular opinion the image of the military as a threat, not a bulwark of democracy.

Shaking up the military with Defense Minister Enrile's dismissal helped to get more competent and trusted leadership in place under Rafael Ileto, but the military's longstanding organizational, material, and training problems will take years to resolve.

In the meantime, the communists still have in place their political infrastructure with its estimated 1 million person base and their 23,000-man fighting force. Once the war reheats, the communists will be better situated to paint the military as the people's oppressors while through about 57 fronts again putting the armed forces at a tactical disadvantage.

The national government so far is the silent partner in this struggle.

Certainly Corazon Aquino's victory hurt the communists. Also, increasingly heavy communist taxation as well as well-publicized accounts of communist atrocities weakened further their support. But the government has yet to capitalize on these developments.

Despite widespread agreement about the need for a comprehensive counterinsurgency strategy, the cabinet was not instructed to develop one during the last 10 months. Only one effort was made under a private initiative by a Mindanao businessman, Chito Ayala, who established a foundation and developed two rehabilitation centers for rebel surrenderees in Davao del Sur and del Norte. These are minimal efforts. The three-week program at the del Norte Center for Amnesty and Reconciliation can process only 25 surrenderees at a time and provides at this date no retraining or land resettlement, though such opportunities are being planned.

A national effort during the ceasefire would help dramatically to undercut the communist's public base and purchase additional breathing space for the military. The return of many rebels home during the holiday period ceasefire provided an opportunity for the government to woo them back.

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The cabinet has recently approved a $50 million rebel rehabilitation program. Such a program, however, requires greater administrative abilities and leadership than the government has so far shown.

As one of President Aquino's advisers recently told me, there are ``certain major issues with no one doing their problem.'' Cabinet ministers have shown little individual initiative, in part paralyzed by the country's economic straitjacket, instead looking to the palace for guidance. The palace has been paralyzed by its own experience and by the threats posed by coup rumors.

If these opportunities are not exploited, when hostilities are resumed, the prospects are for an even more bloody confrontation than before as the military lacks currently the material and the sophistication to engage in surgically clean counterinsurgency warfare.

The consequences for Philippine democracy will not be good as the democratic center will appear as well-meaning but ineffectual leaders of an increasingly polarized nation.

Richard J. Kessler is a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

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