CORAZON AQUINO The Story of a Revolution By Lucy Komisar George Braziller. 290 pp. $16.95 THE FOUR DAYS OF COURAGE By Bryan Johnson Free Press. 300 pp. $19.95 INSIDE THE PALACE The Rise and Fall of Ferdinand & Imelda Marcos By Beth Day Romulo Putnam. 271 pp. $18.95 PEOPLE POWER An Eyewitness History The Philippine Revolution of 1986 Edited by Monina Allarey Mercado Writers and Readers Publishing 320 pp. Paperback, $19.95 REBUILDING A NATION Philippine Challenges And American Policy Edited by Carl H. Lande' Washington Institute for Values in Public Policy 592 pp. $37.95; Paperback, $22.95
THE FULL FLOOD of books set off by the downfall of Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos early last year is upon us. The popular uprising that brought down his despotic rule is the main focus of three of these books. A fourth consists of papers by a broad range of academics and others addressing the question: What next for the Philippines?
The fifth, a personal memoir by Beth Day Romulo, the American-born widow of the well-known Filipino statesman, Carlos P. Romulo, is a good place to start because it provides a backdrop for the upheaval. It is made up of vignettes of the last years of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos, when their gaudy kleptocracy was in full flower. While Marcos had eased up on political repression, the corruption continued unabated. Inside the Palace provides a dramatic, though not particularly analytical, account of what set off the upheaval.
Early on, Romulo notes that when she began to live permanently in Manila she found that "Gossip is a favorite pastime: inventive, colorful, often funny." That having been said, we are off on a merry romp through the Marcoses' excesses. The stories are colorful and often funny; I have no way of knowing if they are inventive.
Occasionally the book circles back to her husband, as if to an island of sanity in a sea of madness. Carlos Romulo is an intriguing figure. He had been close to the center of power for decades. He was a Pulitzer prize-winning journalist, an aide to General Douglas A. MacArthur on Corregidor, a signer of the United Nations Charter, long-time ambassador to this country and, at the end, his nation's foreign minister.
Inside the Palace whets the appetite for a fuller treatment of Carlos Romulo. I look forward to an explanation of Carlos Romulo's apparent libel of his own people by his description of Ferdinand Marcos as the "quintessential Filipino."
People Power contains scores of compelling photographs of the mass uprising in Manila in February 1986. Accompanying them are personal narratives of some of the civilian participants, broken off into short bites to match the unfolding events.
Corazon Aquino by Lucy Komisar improves greatly as it develops. At the outset she is writing about Third World, that country we all know so well from Political Science 101. Gradually, but inexorably, a country called the Philippines comes to the fore. The book ends up being a convenient handbook on the problems the Philippines face in the post-Marcos era.
KOMISAR'S ATTEMPT at biography of Corazon Aquino falls flat, however. She did not have Aquino's cooperation; apparently the president is planning to write her own book. What remains is the familiar portrait of a diffident girl raised in the somewhat sheltered world of the Philippines elite who went on to be the retiring wife of the charismatic Benigno Aquino. The section on her gradual acceptance of a more activist political role following his assassination is interminable and provides little further insight into her character.
Komisar's book and The Four Days of Courage, by Canadian journalist Bryan Johnson complement each other, for Komisar focuses on the political side while Johnson reports on the military establishment. The Asian correspondent for the Toronto Globe and Mail, Johnson began digging shortly after Marcos' flight to find "the story behind the story." What he found was that a group of middle-level officers, organized as Reform the Armed Forces Movement (RAM), had been plotting a coup against Marcos for months. These officers seemed to have had no agenda beyond getting rid of the Marcos clique and redeeming the honor of the Philippines military.
None of their plots was ever launched. The last, set for Sunday, Feb. 23, 1986, about the time the popular revolution was reaching its climax, was betrayed, they say, by leaks to Marcos from the American Embassy. Despite the departure of Marcos, the RAM group seems programmed to carry out its plot; the ringleaders identified by Johnson were behind the coup attempts of November 1986 and this past August.
Rebuilding a Nation had its genesis in a conference on the problems confronting the Philippines held in Washington two months after Marcos fled the islands. The participants were a varied array of academicians, diplomats and other specialists. The papers, some of which have been updated since the meeting, are thoughtful and provocative. They cover a broad array of topics, including the Philippine economy, the country's social and political dynamics and the prospects for the U.S. military bases in the archipelago.
It's a valuable resource book for the specialist in Philippine affairs. In their discussion of economics -- to single out just one -- the analysts are not very optimistic. They say there is very little aid money available from other governments and that private investors are hesitant to take on the risks and uncertainties of today's Philippines.
John Sharkey, an assistant foreign editor of The Washington Post, is working on a history of the Philippines in World War II.