Marcos meddling in Philippine affairs presents problems for US
The United States is finding it hard to control Hawaii's latest wavemaker -- Ferdinand Marcos. The former Philippine President has declined to live quietly in his Honolulu equivalent of Napoleon's Elba. And Washington is not sure how to curb his long-distance meddling in Philippine politics.
Since his ouster after last February's disputed national elections, the exiled Marcos has made frequent attempts through loyalists in the Philippines to reassert his authority and to undermine President Corazon Aquino's government.
The US tries to discourage his troublemaking, congressional and State Department sources say. But it has only limited ability to curb its controversial guest.
Marcos and his wife live in a suburb of Honolulu on the ``parole'' authority of the attorney general, a classification often used to cover a variety of special immigration cases. There are no specific conditions or restrictions on the Marcoses' presence in this country, administration sources say.
The former Philippine President is entitled to the protection of US laws that guarantee the right of free speech, these sources point out. There is only so much the US legally can do to monitor and thus verify the extent of Marcos's political activities, they say.
A federal neutrality law bars hostile acts by persons in the US against friendly governments. But it is aimed principally at prohibiting efforts to mobilize forces on US territory to invade other countries, and may not directly apply to Marcos's long-distance efforts to harness the discontent of opponents of the Aquino government.
``If people plan things in the Philippines and Marcos calls and says `great job, keep up the good work,' that's not something we can do a lot about,'' one congressional source notes.
Most recently, Marcos has been linked to last month's unsuccessful coup attempt against Mrs. Aquino, led by Marcos's former running mate, Arturo Tolentino. According to news reports, based on notes taken by a telephone operator, Marcos made several calls to the conspirators, issuing instructions and urging them to press for his return to the Philippines.
So far the Philippine government has made no official determination of Marcos's role in the coup attempt. But a Philippine Embassy spokesman says there is ``lots of evidence [Marcos] was involved,'' adding that ``it's logical he would have been the instigator.''
In April Marcos phoned a rally of 15,000 supporters demonstrating in a downtown Manila park to insist he was still President of the Philippines and to encourage resistance against the government of Mrs. Aquino.
The call, one of many made to Marcos backers in the Philippines, prompted a direct rebuke from Secretary of State George P. Shultz, who accused Marcos of abusing US hospitality by ``causing trouble'' in the Philippines.
``In effect, the administration said to Marcos that while there are no formal conditions on his residency, there are canons of good behavior, and attempting to overthrow a government does not qualify as good behavior,'' a congressional source says.
``We've made it clear how we feel,'' a State Department official adds. ``He's done some things we feel are inappropriate. We hope our message has been heard. But we've not put him in a box.''
Nor is there any move to expel Marcos from the US, other sources say.
The Aquino government, in particular, is eager to keep Marcos within easy reach of US courts in an effort to recoup part of an estimated $5 billion in global financial and real estate holdings acquired while Marcos was President of the Philippines.
US laws make it possible for Marcos to be tried for private business dealings transacted during his 20-year presidency. Three civil suits are pending against Marcos in New York, New Jersey, and California.
Experts say gaining legal access to Marcos's wealth could be far more difficult if he lived outside the US.
Apart from the legal question, there is the problem of finding a safe haven for Marcos outside the US. So far at least five countries have refused to accept him.
Marcos's meddling has been an irritant in US-Philippine relations. According to a Philippine official, ``He keeps us from devoting our full attention to the problem of economic recovery. In that sense, he's playing into the hands of the left.''
As a result, US officials have sought out opportunities to reaffirm American support for the fledgling Aquino government as it wrestles with the twin tasks of political and economic reconstruction in the Philippines.
Both the House and Senate have moved to supplement US military and economic aid to the Philippines. Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Richard G. Lugar (R) of Indiana this week launched a two week-Asian tour designed in part to provide a show of support for Mrs. Aquino. Mrs. Aquino will be the guest of President Reagan during a US visit next month.
US officials say they have no hard information to back up rumors of a plot to take advantage of Mrs. Aquino's absence to stage a Marcos-backed coup. Speaking in Manila this week, Senator Lugar pledged ``unequivocal'' US support to Mrs. Aquino and said Washington ``would certainly look very unfavorably on any such [coup] attempt from any quarter.''