Aquino's US adventure. Cheers, some jeers for Philippine leader
Rodel E. Rodis needs dinner plates. So many people are expected to turn out for tomorrow's banquet in honor of Philippine President Corazon Aquino that the convention center here won't have enough dishes to accommodate everyone, he says. But Mr. Rodis, a member of the committee that is welcoming Mrs. Aquino to San Francisco on behalf of the Filipino community, does not have to worry about finding a place setting for Cely Carbonell. She'll be out in front of the convention hall, marching in protest of the Aquino administration.
Ms. Carbonell is the West Coast coordinator of the Movement for the Restoration of Democracy in the Philippines, which seeks to restore deposed President Ferdinand E. Marcos to power. ``We want everyone to know of the serious problems that affect our country, and of the misleading promises she [Aquino] keeps making to the people,'' Carbonell says.
This is the first protest Carbonell has ever organized. Until a few months ago, Marcos supporters in the United States were the ones who planned receptions and formal affairs of state. Pro-Aquino forces were the chanting street demonstrators.
But all that changed in February when Mr. Marcos, with US support eroding, fled the Philippines amid widespread charges of election fraud. His departure paved the way for Mrs. Aquino, who tomorrow winds up a nine-day presidential visit to the US that took her to Washington, New York, and Boston.
While President Reagan and Congress assured Aquino of their support, the Filipino community in America remains as divided as ever over her presidency. A member of the Filipino Senior Citizens Club here, denying a request to interview club members, said: ``Do not come here. Too many people are pro-Aquino and too many are pro-Marcos. It will only stir up trouble.''
Carbonell says she expects that 2,000 Marcos supporters will show up tomorrow to picket in front of the Moscone Center. If so, the demonstration -- which she says is being organized by Filipino-American doctors, lawyers, teachers, and other professionals -- will be the most visible protest during Aquino's visit.
But Rodis says the positive response to Aquino's San Francisco visit has been ``overwhelming.'' With 3,500 people paying $50 each to attend the banquet, ``it will be the biggest dinner ever given by any group in California,'' he says. Filipinos will be flying in from as far away as Anchorage, Alaska, and Phoenix, Ariz.
Salvacion Johnson, a board member of another senior center for Filipinos, says the place has been buzzing in anticipation of Aquino's visit. Many of the center's 580 members have bought banquet tickets, even though not many can easily afford them, she says.
Aquino has captured the imagination of many Philippine natives in America in part because she shattered old stereotypes of Filipinos as ``subservient houseboys or corrupt mauraders,'' Rodis says. ``The American public got to see Filipinos fighting for their right to vote, their right to elect. . . . The [public] image of Filipinos flipped 180 degrees, they can now hold their heads higher as a result of what Cory has done.''
But the major concern of most Marcos loyalists -- one that is apparently shared by the Reagan administration -- focuses on Aquino's policies toward the communist insurgents of the New People's Army. Her order to ease up on military activity during negotiations with the NPA is ``a sham,'' Carbonell says. ``It allows the NPA to butcher and slaughter the military, but the military is paralyzed from fighting back.''
Marcos loyalists were incensed when Aquino freed NPA rebels whom he had jailed and offered amnesty to NPA soldiers. ``Filipinos are a freedom-loving people. We can't become another Vietnam, another Nicaragua,'' Carbonell says. ``That's why we're drumming this now, before it's too late.''
The nationwide Movement for the Restoration of Democracy in the Philippines was formed in Washington in late August, and its leaders took their concerns directly to the US State Department and the Senate. It is the newest of a number of organizations, most of them headquartered in California, that are part of a pro-Marcos network in America. All insist Marcos was ousted illegally, and they say he is still the best person to quash communism and preserve United States military bases in the Philippines.
Aquino, meanwhile, is focusing on economic improvements -- a move that may eventually dissolve the discontent upon which the rebels thrive. Her request last week to Congress for additional foreign aid will be followed here by a request for investment to a group of Bay Area business people. Philip Sarmiento, commercial attach'e at the Philippine consulate, says that in the last two weeks he has had many calls from potential investors located in California.