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Filipino Military Academy Slated For Reform

EARL PABALAN, a 21-year-old cadet at the Philippine Military Academy, is a new-generation military officer. Older officers came of age during years of martial law under former President Ferdinand Marcos. Mr. Pabalan's colleagues, he says, have grown up with President Corazon Aquino and a new ethic: The military is subordinate to the civilian sector.

Yet the series of coup attempts against Mrs. Aquino and the grievances of rebel officers like Gregorio Honasan hasn't been lost on the cadet.

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"His [Honasan's] thoughts have been an eye-opener for the armed forces," says the third-year cadet. "Without his ideals, the armed forces wouldn't have come up with a new sense of morality and change."

At this prestigious officers' training school built on the pine-covered mountains of the northern Philippines, a spirit of reform grapples with the troubling dilemmas of the country's atrophied armed forces.

For years, the Philippines armed forces has been haunted by factionalism, corruption, favoritism in promotions, and charges of human rights abuses.

The military's entanglement in politics, deeply rooted during the Marcos regime, has been confounded by the detached five-year rule of Aquino. Seven coup attempts have failed to topple her government.

Controversy and violence flared anew last week, when Army rebels allegedly bombed three banks and a power station in the capital, Manila. Outgoing Armed Forces Chief Rodolfo Biazon linked the blasts to the protest resignation of his deputy, Maj. Gen. Alexander Aguirre.

General Aguirre resigned after Aquino passed him over and named Army Comdr. Lisandro Abadia as chief of staff. General Abadia was succeeded as Army chief by Brig. Gen. Arturo Enrile, the superintendent of the Philippine Military Academy.

Western and Philippine analysts say it will be difficult for the rebels to launch a full-scale coup in the near future. The government has arrested several rebels involved with Reform of the Armed Forces Movement (RAM) and the Young Officers Union (YOU), a more shadowy group linked to the 1989 coup attempt that almost brought down Aquino.

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Meeting rebel demands

Defense Secretary Fidel Ramos contends that the rebels are being coopted by efforts to speed up the promotions, tightening penalties for rebellion, and encouraging more military interaction with civilians.

"The issues brought up in 1987 and 1989 are little by little being attended to," says Mr. Ramos, who hopes to succeed Aquino as president next year. "The rebels are losing their bases on which they acted and losing their appeal as far as the masses are concerned."

But the rebels remain a threat because many loyal soldiers share their sentiments, while disagreeing with the methods.

"YOU is more of a problem than RAM, which is seen as being of another generation," says. a Western diplomat in Manila "YOU has more of an economic and social program and has taken a nationalistic turn. They are looking at five years down the road."

At the 85-year-old academy, the turbulence has also taken a toll. Many dissident officers are alumni of the academy, which has been blamed for the breakdown in discipline and the reluctance of military officers to turn on each other during coup attempts.

The school is the spiritual home of the RAM, organized by Honasan and others who helped bring down Marcos in 1986 and who later rebelled against Aquino. RAM was first unveiled at the academy's 1985 graduation ceremony as reformers wore T-shirts that read, "We belong."

The cadet corps later revolted in 1987 in sympathy with coup plotters in Manila. Student leaders were never punished, and several went on to join the 1989 coup. A bomb explosion in 1986 ripped through a reviewing stand at a rehearsal for a ceremony to be attended by Aquino.

Elite student body

Military analysts trace young officers' quest for political power to the increasingly elitist makeup of the academy student body. In a series of interviews at the school, the cadets were often referred to as "the cream of the crop."

In a study of more than 8,000 cadets since 1950, Felipe Miranda of the University of the Philippines found the students better educated and aspiring to the same political clout as their families.

General Enrile, the academy superintendent, blames politicization under martial law rather than poor training for military tumult. The general, however, who is known as a conciliator within the faction-ridden armed forces and negotiated the end of the 1989 coup, admits he took a new approach. Enrile was brought in two years ago to reform the academy, change attitudes, and reestablish the supremacy of civilian rule among the cadets.

He restructured the curriculum and reorganized the school to give students more leadership opportunities earlier in their training. There also is a greater emphasis on military sensitivities to human rights.

"The approach is quite different. Up until 1990, the aspect of training them as leaders was not that effective," Enrile says. "We found the old belief that there should be a quick transformation from the civilian to the military attitude was not very effective. It amounted to a lot of attrition and problems."

Some Filipino observers contend that this approach has made recent graduating classes less hostile than their predecessors. In 1989, the cadets and instructors didn't support the rebels as in 1987, in part, Enrile says, because he knew some of the rebels from their days at the academy and won credibility by intervening as a negotiator.

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