The threat to the Philippines from right-wing soldiers has dwindled and the danger posed by communist insurgents has leveled off, says Philippine Defense Secretary Fidel V. Ramos.
Ramos, who has been welcomed by some Philippine-American supporters as a hoped-for successor to President Corazon Aquino, is making a 10-day visit to the United States that includes meetings with top U.S. officials.His message is that his country cannot lick the communist threat with military force alone but still needs more military aid, said Philippine government spokesman Ben David.
Ramos, a West Point graduate who became authoritarian ruler Ferdinand Marcos' No. 2 military commander and then helped lead the February 1986 revolution that overthrew him, was meeting Monday with U.S. Defense Secretary Frank Car-lucci. He has meetings scheduled later in his visit with Secretary of State George Shultz, members of Congress and other officials.
"We are now on the upgrade. We have gotten out of the very deep hole where we found ourselves in February 1986," Ramos told a mostly Filipino-American gathering Saturday night in the Washington area.
But he said the country still faces serious problems, including poverty, social injustice, the need for land reform and better education.
Ramos said new reforms and the failure of communist-supported candidates in elections have helped limit growth of the insurgency that arose during Marcos' 20-year rule.
But he said the communist rebels are still a significant force, with up to 23,000 fighters, about two-thirds of whom are armed. He said that number has changed little since Aquino came to power.
"We have observed a leveling off in their strength," he said, noting that the communists were unable to defeat ratification of the constitution or elect more than a couple of candidates to Congress.
Asked about the threat from ex-Col. Gregorio Honasan, who escaped after his arrest for attempting a coup last August, Ramos said renegade soldiers do not have the support or power to overthrow the government.
"People have been turned off against them," he said, noting that more than 50 people were killed in Honasan's coup attempt.
"We feel that while they have the capability of hitting and running, their ability to undo the government is now very, very diminished," Ramos said.
The military, he said, also has "gone back to basics" in its training.