Philippine Reconciliation--With Justice

Carl H. Lande is professor of political science and East Asian studies at the University of Kansas

Corazon Aquino, facing the dual tasks of dismantling the Marcos dictatorship and restoring the health of the Philippine economy and polity, has chosen to concentrate her attention, and that of her people, on the future instead of the past.

To the positive task of reconstruction, she brings her immense popularity and a competent, carefully selected Cabinet. To help in the negative task of removing the remains of Marcos' political system, she has adopted a policy of forgiveness and reconciliation. This reflects both her own Christian ethics and those of her adviser, Cardinal Jaime Sin. It also shows the sound political judgment of a leader who recognizes that there remain in the Philippines many who were and continue to be ardent supporters of the Marcos regime. By offering reconciliation, she hopes to overcome the bitterness among those who have lost special privileges in the name of unifying a previously divided nation.

But she also recognizes the impediments to progress posed by the Marcos stalwarts. Last week she was on the verge of declaring her government "revolutionary," in order to hasten the departure of the old order.

Still, there are risks in an indiscriminate policy of forgiveness, risks Aquino is beginning to recognize. To minimize future trouble, she must make some difficult decisions. The most obvious and seemingly most simple one concerns the treatment of those who have committed serious crimes under the protection of the old regime. Had the government not acted to prosecute crimes committed by members of the outgoing government, it would have risked retaliation against such individuals by the relatives of their victims. In a society accustomed to violence and vengeance, that could have led to an outbreak of uncontrolled blood-letting. Thus, as some of President Aquino's advisers have urged, "forgiveness and reconciliation" is being replaced by a policy of "reconciliation with justice."

The task of punishing past offenders becomes more difficult for the government when it involves former Marcos followers in the new Aquino government. One who symbolizes this problem is the new and former minister of defense, Juan Ponce Enrile. While Aquino owes her election to an aroused electorate, her final accession to power was made possible by Enrile's desertion from Marcos. Without that bold--or desperate--step, the defection of a majority of the army might not have taken place. For this act, Enrile was entitled to remain in office, as was Gen. Fidel Ramos, who followed Enrile into rebellion, despite his close family tie to Marcos.

But unlike Ramos, a professional soldier with a reputation for honesty, Enrile, one of Marcos' closest advisers, profited immensely from his services to his former chief. He is reputed to now be one of his country's richest men. Can the new president now divest her defense minister of his dubiously gotten wealth? If she cannot or will not, how can she justify confiscating the properties of other Marcos cronies? And if she fails to do that, what becomes of her promise to end graft and corruption?

A different but no less serious problem is that of those Marcos loyalists who have committed no crimes, but who continue to hold important public offices. Most of them are members of Marcos' KBL (Kilusan Bagong Lipunan, or New Society Movement) party. Leading KBL figures have made clear their intention to keep the party in being and to win back power by electoral means. Other Marcos loyalists in the armed forces reportedly hope for the return of Gen. Fabian Ver, who fled with Marcos, to lead a military coup or a popular rebellion in Marcos' home region, the Ilocano provinces of the north. Marcos has been in frequent telephone contact with supporters there. An attempt, however futile, at a restoration of the Marcos regime, with or without Marcos, cannot be discounted.

President Aquino therefore must decide whether the KBL and its members are to be given the rights of a loyal opposition in a democracy, as were all opposition parties before 1972, or whether they are to be treated as the collaborators of an anti-democratic regime who have forfeited their rights to play such a role.

When Marcos imposed martial law in September, 1972, a constitutional convention to revise the constitution of 1935 was in session. Partly through bribery, Marcos persuaded a majority of its members to produce a document tailored to expand his own power. The new constitution was given its imprimatur of approval through a show of hands at hastily called public meetings, rather than through a secret ballot, as was provided for by law. Many opposition lawyers still regard the Marcos constitution as illegal and consider the 1935 constitution as the only valid one.

Aquino has apparently decided to rule for a time as the head of a "revolutionary government" while a new constitution is being written. Her justice minister, Neptali Gonzales, said last week that a provisional constitution would be adopted for six months while the government designs a new constitution. While Aquino ran for election under the Marcos constitution, she came to office as a result of the military's abandonment of the old regime. She could thus claim to rule on either basis. If she were to govern under Marcos' constitution, however, she would be obligated to recognize the legitimacy of other institutions created under it, as well as the claims to office of those elected or appointed during the Marcos years.

That includes judges, provincial governors and city mayors, the great majority of whom are Marcos loyalists. It also includes the legislative assembly elected in 1984, in which two-thirds of the members are affiliated with the KBL. Most of them have offered to reverse their earlier proclamation of Marcos as president, in return for being allowed to keep their seats. In a country where party-switching has been common, many KBL members might quit their party and demand admission to Aquino's UNIDO party. That would confront the new president with a parliament controlled by her opponents or by new "followers" of uncertain loyalty. As head of a revolutionary government, however, Aquino could dissolve the assembly and replace most governors and mayors by her own appointees--which would seem a wise decision.

The issue of forgiveness and reconciliation also pertains to leading figures in the armed communist rebellion. That rebellion, begun in 1969, three years before the beginning of martial law under Marcos, now counts more than 20,000 armed guerrillas in the New People's Army, American military experts believe, and many more sympathizers.

There is good reason to hope that the Aquino government, with a reformed military, will win back the confidence of many disaffected civilians. That should lessen the NPA's ability to attract new members. At the same time, the new president has reaffirmed a campaign promise to call a six month's cease-fire in the war against the communist insurgents and has offered them a chance to enter the electoral arena as a legal political party if they in turn will renounce armed struggle. Under an amnesty proposal, surrendering rebels would be pardoned for political crimes and would be granted aid in starting a new life.

Consistent with her hope for such an ending to a long and costly war, and in the face of strong opposition by her military advisers, she decided to include four leading imprisoned communists in the promised release of all political prisoners.

The four, however, did not forswear armed struggle against the government in return for liberty. This was hardly surprising. Had Marcos remained in power, U.S. military observers believe that the rebels would probably have achieved a military stalemate with government forces in three years. Having come so near their goal by military means, it seems unlikely that they will abandon a successful strategy for the uncertainty of electoral competition against a popular new government.

The released NPA founder and leader, Jose Maria Sison, may offer to end the rebellion on conditions that Aquino could not accept: large-scale land reform, a share in the government and the abrogation of the U.S. military bases agreement. Whether these demands are rejected or accepted, Sison, as his party's most brilliant theoretician and tactician, can become a formidable opponent for Aquino. Despite the wisdom and generosity of other aspects of her policy of forgiveness and reconciliation, she may come to regret its application in this case. Still, her act of magnanimity now puts the onus on the communists for rejecting reconciliation.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World