With the Philippines facing a political crisis that has thrown the machinery of national and local government into chaos, the remnants of Ferdinand E. Marcos' political party Monday extended qualified support to President Corazon Aquino.
In an emotionally charged party caucus after the exiled Marcos personally telephoned his party leaders from Hawaii on Monday morning, the political loyalists he left behind when he fled the country last Wednesday pledged that they will "try to assist and help" Aquino in legitimizing her mandate as president.
That support, however, was offered on condition that she does not immediately replace all 1,519 town mayors, most of whom held their posts with Marcos' backing. One of Aquino's chief aides assured the loyalists near the end of the caucus that local officials could remain in office at least until the end of June.
Aquino's minister of local government, Aquilino Pimentel, said during the weekend that mayors and governors should resign. Some Marcos loyalist mayors barricaded themselves inside their offices Monday. Demonstrations against the order were reported in two Manila suburbs and a province north of the capital.
At the heart of the crisis is uncertainty over what kind of government Aquino now heads--a constitutional government that will follow the nation's 1973 Marcos-amended constitution, or a revolutionary government in which she would have the absolute power to dissolve the national legislature and Supreme Court, both still dominated by Marcos loyalists.
Under a revolutionary government, she would replace every local official in the country with politicians loyal to her.
Technically, Marcos defeated Aquino by 1.5 million votes in the official government tallies of the Feb. 7 presidential poll. He was constitutionally proclaimed president by the National Assembly, where he still has a two-thirds majority, and was sworn into office by his loyal Supreme Court chief justice.
By then, however, a military and civilian rebellion had deprived Marcos of his support. Within hours, he fled his palace on his way to exile--for now, in Honolulu.
Charge of Rigging
Aquino says that Marcos and his supporters rigged the returns, that she would have won if the election had been clean.
Now, Aquino, 53, is recognized as the undisputed leader of the Philippines, at home and internationally. Not even the leaders of Marcos' party, the New Society Movement or KBL, disputed that Monday. Rather, the purpose of their caucus was an attempt to preserve as much power as they can amid threats by factions within the Aquino leadership to try to take power at every level of government.
"The Aquino government in power today is already uncontested and has won the acceptance of the people," said former Labor Minister Blas Ople, who was Marcos' top campaign aide and a key supporter in the assembly. "I certainly do not believe there is any government in exile outside the Philippines.
"But you can see there is a groping for legitimacy on the part of the Aquino government. . . . You simply cannot form a policy on the basis of storming the Bastille every day, or on the basis of street power."
At a news conference Monday afternoon, Aquino's vice president, Salvador Laurel, called for immediate action to create a new constitution, which he said could be drafted in 90 days.
Laurel refused to use either the terms "constitutional" or "revolutionary" in describing the new government, instead calling it both "de jure" and "de facto, " because Marcos has fled the country and his running mate, Arturo Tolentino, did not take his oath of office.
Laurel conceded there is a crisis in the government. "Right now, we're in a state of fluidity," he said. "One school believes this is a revolutionary government. Another says it's a de jure government because of the recognition by foreign countries."
That divergence of views exists at top leadership levels--with Laurel's United Nationalist Democratic Organization (UNIDO) preferring to seek a constitutional mandate, and hard-liners from Aquino's party, the PDP-Laban (Fight), preferring a revolutionary stance.
Aquino's new justice minister, Neptali Gonzalez, a member of the Laban group, said Monday that he will try "as much as feasible" to work within the present constitution, but he added that Aquino's government does exist independently of established law and that it is, indeed, a revolutionary one.
A revolutionary stand, and the wholesale replacement of all members of the national and local governments with Aquino supporters, would virtually wipe out a two-party system in the Philippines, according to the moderates and the Marcos loyalists.
"This government is outside the constitution; it is revolutionary, and a revolutionary government is worse than martial law," said Marcos loyalist Tolentino, a renowned constitutional expert who says he still considers himself the vice president of the Philippines. "It is the worst kind of dictatorship."
But there was dissent even within Marcos' party, which, for the first time in years, openly debated issues during its caucus.
"It was never like this when the president was around," said loyalist assemblyman Orlando Dulay when the caucus ended. "Before, everything we voted on was presented to us by the party officials. It was all pre-cooked."
The resolution that was ultimately passed by Marcos' party Monday favors the moderates by promising that, if Aquino leaves the present legislature intact, it will officially proclaim her president, despite the majority against her and the two-party coalition.
Quid Pro Quo Asked
In exchange, Marcos' supporters asked Aquino to allow the mayors and governors elected to their posts under Marcos' rule to remain in office until another election is held, possibly later this year.
Many of those local officials poured into the National Assembly building for the caucus vowing to fight--violently, if necessary--to keep their posts.
In light of the protests, the former local government minister, Jose Runo, said that if Aquino maintains that hers is a revolutionary government, "it could be convulsive."
"You will have to meet the problem in 1,519 towns, and there's no military force or police force that can do that," said Runo, a Marcos diehard. "It would be a sad day for us."
Old Guard Convenes
It was a sad day Monday in Conference Room D where the men and women that Marcos had left to fight his battles met together for the first time since he, his family and scores of other loyalists boarded U.S. Air Force jets bound for America.
Asked whether he felt deserted by his political mentor, Runo said, "On the contrary, there were many of us who feel a little guilty about this."
Noting that Marcos was isolated from his countrymen when he decided to leave Malacanang Palace last Tuesday, Runo added: "He felt he was abandoned. In the last days when he needed us most, we were not around."
Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile, who held the same post under Marcos, co-led the rebellion, and is now still formally a member of Marcos' party, was absent from Monday's caucus. Still, he made his presence felt, raising anew questions about how active a role he and his powerful military intends to play in the new regime.
Just before the caucus ended, Enrile telephoned and conveyed a promise by Aquino to allow all local officials to remain in office at least until June 30. The announcement brought a loud cheer from the party members.
One assemblyman who many believed had fled did attend the meeting. Orlando Dulay, who has been implicated in several post-election massacres in his home province of Quirino, threw his support solidly behind Aquino.
"Of course, we will support Cory because she is already there," he said. "What else can we do?"
Dulay, a former military commander, quickly added, though, that Aquino's first official act of freeing more than 400 political prisoners, some of them key leaders of the Communist Party, is dangerous. "It's just too much. They'll go back to their comrades and continue their struggle to take over the government," he said.
House in New Jersey
But Dulay said he is not afraid of Aquino's pledge to prosecute all Marcos loyalists who are guilty of crimes committed during Marcos' two decades in power. "No problem. What is my fault?" he said.
Still, Dulay added, he is leaving for the United States next week and plans to buy a house for his wife and children in New Jersey. "I'll come back," he said, "but I think we're facing a lot more trouble here than we think."
There was trouble in Guinobatan, a town in Albay province 210 miles southeast of Manila, on Monday. Communist guerrillas ambushed a police vehicle on a rural bridge, killing 15 officers and four civilians in their first major attack since Aquino became president last week, according to the Associated Press.
Col. Jovencio Sales, national police chief for the province, said that about 200 guerrillas waiting on both sides of the road fired on the truck as it drove onto the bridge, and a minibus was caught in the cross-fire. He said 10 policemen and seven civilians were wounded.