For the past several days, Filipino newspaper readers have been trested to lavish [WORD ILLEGIBLE] laudatory coverage of Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi, whom Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos credits with helping work out a peace agreement with Moslem rebels in the troubled southern Philippines.
If the cease-fire breaks down, as [WORD ILLEGIBLE] observers here expect, the Marcos government apparently hopes that the praise the government-controlled press has heaped on Qaddafi will persuade the mercurial Moslem leader not to renew his supports for the Moslem rebels here.
Through the mediation of Qaddafi and Libyan Foreign Minister Ali Trayki, an "agreement in principle" that includes a cease-fire was signed Dec. 23 in Tripole, Libya, between representatives of the Moro National Liberation Front - the leaders of the rebellion - and the Philippines government.
Last week, in a further show of continued interest in the Philippines, the Libyan Foreign Ministry announced that it has decided to open an embassy in Manila.
But while the press has been lauding Qaddafi, in a series of articles picturing him as a great Moslem leader much maligned by the Western press, there has been no mention of the fact that he had previously admitted aiding the Moslem insurgency or that the Philippine leaders had regularly blamed him for the problems in the south.
Many Filipinos, meanwhile, are disturbed that details of the "agreement in principle" with the rebels have not been made public.
Marcos, in the press conference that followed its announcement, merely called the agreement "a compromise" and said his negotiators had agreed to grant the Moslems regional autonomy within still-to-be-worked-out areas taken from 13 of the country's 73 provinces.
This regional government, Marcos said, would be allowed to set up its own legislative assemlby, court system and security forces under army "supervision."
The Philippine government's department of foreign affairs, in particular, as well as other sections of the government and military, are known to feel that this was too much of a compromise.
Informed sources say that the agreement commits the government to place Moslems on the Supreme Court and to provide Moslem representation in all agencies of the central government. It does not provide for military "supervision" of the Moslem security forces, but only a "relationship" between the two, the sources say.
Most importantly, according to the sources, the agreement commits the government to "take all necessary constitutional precesses" for implementation of the entire agreement, leading some observers to speculate that the present carefully constructed constitution, which keeps local governments firmly under central government control, will have to be amended.
Marcos sought last week to quash such speculation, saying: "There is no intention on the part of any party to these agreements . . . to allow the accommodate any to the demands." The amendment of our constitution to achead of the government delegation to the talks, Carmelo Barbero, in a phone interview, would not confirm or deny that he had agreed to the clause in question but said: "Because of the English translation there may be some parts of the agreement which may be vague."
There seems to be no vagueness about the section of the agreement which the government sought - the cease-fire. According to Barbero, government troops are observing it completely, and the insurgents are mostly observing it.
"I don't believe there is any concerted effort (on the part of the rebels) to sabotage the cease-fire" Barbero said. Nevertheless, the government is still unwilling to allow any correspondent to travel to the hostile portions of the area.
There is increasing evidence that the government may feel forcd to back out of the agreement, while trying to maintain the cease-fire, in February when the Barbero panel is scheduled to again meet in Tripoli with the moslem leadership to work out the details of autonomy.
The Manila press has recently been focusing on a Moslem group called the Moro Reform Liberation Movement, which is credited with having 13,000 armed men. No such group had been heard of previously. Government press releases say the new group will have its own negotiations with the Barbero panel in order to work out "a peaceful settlement" to the conflict in the south.
The involvement of Libya in the affairs of the Philippines, halfway around the globe, goes back nearly a decade.
Libya, as well as other Islamic governments, first expressed concern over the fate of the 2 million Moslem Filipinos living in the southern Philippines in 1968 following an alleged Philippine government massacre of some two dozen Moslems.
From 1969, young activist Moslem Filipinos received military training in Sabah, in eastern Malaysia, reportedly with Libyan assistance. They became the Bangsa Moro army - the fighting force of the insurgency.
They began their open rebellion for autonomy in early 1973 and had considerable success against the understrength government forces. In 1973 and 1974 they took scores of towing and seriously threatened the major cities of Cotabato and Jolo.
The fortunes of war shifted by mid-1975 as the government forces built up overwhelming superiority. The political leadership in Sabah changed and the rebels were denied bases there. When Manila offered amnesty to rebels willing to leave the movement, thousands did, reducing rebel strength from a high of 16,000 to a current 8,000, although the government claims it is only 2,000.
Marcos said last month that "about 10,000" Christian and Moslem civilians were killed in the fighting.