Aquino-Enrile truce holds -- for now
Round 1 is over. The unlikely coalition of President Corazon Aquino and Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile is intact -- for now. The question is: Who made gains and who made concessions in this week's Aquino-Enrile reconciliation talks?
In the past three weeks, Mr. Enrile became increasingly harsh in his criticism of Mrs. Aquino's policies, particularly her decision to talk peace with the communist insurgents. Aquino's government supporters, for their part, demanded Enrile resign from the Cabinet.
Enrile has always been regarded by the Aquino camp as the ``enemy,'' who by an accident of history became Aquino's major partner in the February revolution that toppled the government of then-President Ferdinand Marcos. (Enrile was also Mr. Marcos's defense minister.)
By Tuesday, Enrile's fiery rhetoric against the communists and the government brought things to a head. Throughout the day, there were rumors that a coup would be staged by Enrile and his elite security force, a group of some 600 highly trained troops detailed to the Defense Ministry. There were also rumors that Aquino had issued an order to arrest Enrile, who was said to be holed up in his ministry office.
Tuesday afternoon, while Enrile dealt with Aquino emissaries in his office, a reportedly agitated President begged off from meeting with representatives of some 25,000 farmers who had marched four days to Manila to demand genuine land reform. Aquino was, she said later, engaged in ``my own peace talks.'' At 10 o'clock that night, Aquino and Enrile met. The armed forces chief of staff, Gen. Fidel Ramos, was there, as were several Cabinet ministers.
It is not known what happened at the Tuesday night meeting, but the next morning -- before a Cabinet meeting -- the reportedly weary President went to a nearby convent for prayer. Later, Enrile emerged from the Cabinet meeting smiling broadly, a departure from the grim hostility he had been displaying at public appearances in recent weeks.
Also after the Cabinet meeting, Aquino made her strongest statement yet on the insurgency. She said she would impose a deadline on the ongoing cease-fire talks and added: ``We must now proceed with the energy [and] coordination . . . of a single hand now open in the offer of peace, but soon to be clenched in a declaration of war.''
Aquino's statement was taken as a signal that she had made at least one concession to Enrile, who has long advocated a hard-line military solution. It appears that Enrile had made no concessions.
According to a Defense Ministry source, Enrile's other demands were that Aquino reject a just-completed draft constitution and adopt Marcos's 1973 constitution; call early presidential elections (the draft constitution grants Aquino the presidency until 1992; restore the parliament she dissolved in March; reinstate some mayors and governors fired when Aquino took over; and replace eight Cabinet ministers, starting with top aide Joker Arroyo. Mr. Arroyo, a human rights lawyer who defended leftist insurgents during the Marcos years, is criticized by the military for being ``a communist coddler.''
Some observers, noting the political nature of Enrile's demands, say his recent verbal attacks are more a sign of personal ambition thwarted by Aquino's popularity than of his much-vaunted anticommunist feelings.
His senior aides say that all Enrile wants is ``to force government to come up with really hard decisions regarding the insurgency.'' One close aide said, ``Obviously, the ambition is there.'' Enrile is posturing, the aide says, because he knows he would be a strong candidate if presidential elections were held soon.
Another of the many questions raised in the Aquino-Enrile controversy focuses on which side the 160,000 members of the armed forces would take in the event of a showdown. Sources at the presidential palace confidently refer to military chief Ramos as ``Cory's man,'' but Enrile aides insist General Ramos supports Enrile.
Publicly, Ramos has not taken sides in Aquino-Enrile rift. But last week the general referred to the military as ``the new armed forces of the Aquino government.'' And Tuesday morning he reportedly assured Aquino that if Enrile moved his troops, ``he will get it from us.''
Ramos warned the military Wednesday to keep away from partisan politics. Those who wish to get involved, he said, ``must first leave the organization.'' According to an officer identified with Enrile, most of the military supports his anticommunist stance.
Although Aquino said Wednesday that ``there is no falling out between Minister Enrile and me,'' last week she went public on their differences: ``We are different people . . . created out of radically different experiences. It is understandable that we . . . should take some time to understand each other.''
Observers say neither Aquino nor Enrile won this round. If there was a winner, they say, it was Ramos, who is a stabilizing factor in this unstable democracy.