A Marcos snub to the US
THE acquittal of Gen. Fabian Ver and 25 other defendants implicated in the killing of former Philippine opposition leader Benigno S. Aquino Jr. -- and the speedy reinstatement of General Ver to the nation's highest military post -- cannot help undermining continued United States support for the regime of President Ferdinand Marcos. Moreover, the reinstatement of General Ver at a time of growing communist insurgency suggests that Mr. Marcos is willing to flout rising calls for reform coming from Washington in favor of shoring up support from his own cohorts within Philippine governing circles. The Ver decision amounts to a slap in the face, not just to the United States, which had opposed reinstatement of the general, but also at the concept of Philippine democracy itself.
The jeers and street protests following announcement of the acquittal vividly express the deep skepticism of the Philippine public about the decision, made by a special three-judge panel. The nation's highest court, the Supreme Court of the Philippines, threw out scores of documents that might have provided special insight into the death of Mr. Aquino back in August 1983, when he stepped off the plane carrying him back to Manila from his haven in the United States. Several people involved in the inquir y have disappeared. One witness, a Philippine businesswoman, testified under oath that she saw a Philippine military official kill Mr. Aquino.
Moreover, the reconstruction of film and photographic records of the arrival suggests that it would have been very difficult for the person held by the three-judge panel to have committed the killing -- Rolando Galman, described by the Philippine government as a communist -- to have actually done so.
There are other disturbing elements. Announcement of the actual decision, although not unexpected, was held up for several weeks -- moving the announcement closer to the presidential election, now scheduled for Feb. 7. Such timing helps Mr. Marcos by making it somewhat harder for his opposition to target in on the acquittal. Also, unanswered questions persist about Mr. Galman, including his involvement, if any, with insurgents.
The acquittal, then, along with the Ver reinstatement, becomes a highly visible mark for US-Philippine relations. It is imperative that the Reagan administration send the strongest possible message to the Philippine people disavowing any American linkage with this course of the Marcos regime.
Two issues must be nonnegotiable for continued US ties:
General Ver must not be allowed to regain day-to-day hold over the armed forces. His concept of the military -- as a force designed and staffed to protect Marcos -- is not the type of flexible, reformed defense system necessary to defeat a growing communist insurgency.
The election must be free and open. Impartial vote monitors, including US observers, must be stationed throughout the countryside. Intimidation of voters must not be tolerated.
As events in the Philippines are moving with great speed, the US should ensure that the direction of change is toward greater reform and democratic government.