Exit Aquino, Enter Ramos

June 26, 1992

Gen. Fidel Ramos deserves the support of all Filipinos as their next president. Only 23.5 percent of those voting wanted him in the job, but he got the biggest plurality. Handing presidential power to such a slim winner over six opponents, without a run-off, leaves much to be desired, but the Philippines congress and courts made clear there is no alternative. His succession to Corazon Aquino on next Tuesday will be the first smooth transition in the country in 26 years and a tribute to her achievement in completing an elected term.

Whether the 64-year-old former general is a good choice is now moot. As head of the constabulary, he enforced the long dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos, before changing sides in 1986 to help end it. As defense secretary, he proved stalwart in defending President Aquino against constant plotting and seven armed coup attempts. Small wonder she supported his candidacy.

The fragmentation of the presidential vote and the challenged integrity of the count undermined Mrs. Aquino's greatest gift to her country, legitimacy. The president-elect is a minority Protestant in a Catholic land, and the first career military man elected as Philippines president. He faces stubborn insurgencies, the loss of the largest industry in the form of U.S. bases, and opposition control of the congress and the vice presidency. Electric power is off almost half the time. The support for him expressed by his defeated rival, Eduardo Cojuangco, a protege of the late dictator Marcos, is a healthy precedent that other rivals should emulate.

General Ramos is a West Point alumnus who fights corruption in the military and hopes to end the anti-American image of Philippines politics. He would probably want to rescind the eviction of the U.S. Navy from Subic Bay naval base. But the U.S. has already spent millions to withdraw, is reducing its base commitments and has implemented other plans. There is no discernible sentiment in Washington for going back to Subic Bay.

Filipinos are right to wonder why the economic miracles of the Pacific Rim have left them out. The answer lies in their own society: the anarchy, the crime, the rebellion, the cleavage between the very rich and the many poor.

A fairer distribution of wealth, an end to Communist and regional insurrection, cessation of military mutiny and creation of a national consensus are needed to lure investment to put Filipinos back to work. If President-elect Ramos merely protects the privileges of the elite classes and promotes the fortunes of his friends, the Philippines will be left even further behind. But if he can forge alliances across the divisions of Filipino society and do what needs to be done, the succession of Aquino-to-Ramos will have lifted the Philippines toward self-respect, prosperity and democracy.

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