President Corazon Aquino, humiliated by a Senate repudiation of a 10-year military base treaty with the United States, decided Friday to call for a national referendum on the issue.
The referendum--which is expected to be challenged in the Supreme Court--will coincide with the May, 1992, presidential and congressional elections, said Laticia Shahani, one of the minority 11 senators who supported the treaty and who met with Aquino at Malacanang Palace.
Aquino is to make the announcement for a referendum after Monday's final vote in the Senate, which is all but certain to reject the treaty. Her key adviser, executive secretary Franklin Drilon, told reporters that the president will "announce at the appropriate time, immediately after the vote takes place," what her plans will be.
According to senators present at the meeting, Aquino agreed with them that they should reject a suggestion by opposition senators to give the United States a three-year, rent-free withdrawal from the Philippines.
Under the apparently doomed treaty, the United States was to pay $203 million a year for Subic Bay Naval Base. A slim majority of 12 senators declared that sum an insult to Philippine sovereignty and voted to reject it.
Sen. John Osmena said proponents of the base agreement "feel that a treaty of withdrawal will only confuse the issue," adding that supporters could settle for nothing less than a referendum.
Bringing the issue of U.S.-Philippine relations to the people has brought the Aquino presidency and the constitution to the brink. Political analysts said the 58-year-old Aquino, who failed to sway the Senate in a "people power" rally of 150,000 supporters Tuesday, has now risked her political future on an issue that has polarized the nation for decades.
Aquino has insisted that continued U.S. economic and military assistance, as well as $1 billion in U.S. aid not linked to the base, are crucial for the Philippines' economic revival.
Aquino has been under mounting criticism for the purported lack of leadership and political acumen that led to the policy debacle over U.S. bases. But in a statement, she replied, "What I find distressing with some of the senators is their attempt to blame myself and the executive department for their vote against the treaty."
Observers expect Aquino to fight for the treaty in the referendum as a personal crusade. "It has become a personal thing," said Sen. Vicente Paterno, who noted that many of those voting against the treaty were close to Aquino and were elected partly through her endorsement.
Meanwhile, the government reacted coolly to the Communist guerrilla unilateral cease-fire, declared Thursday in response to the anticipated U.S. withdrawal. Defense Secretary Renato De Villa said: "We are going to continue with our operations. We are not calling a cease-fire on our side."