More than six years after imposing martial law, President Ferdinand E. Marcos faces a shooting war on two fronts, growing resentment over abuses by his soldiers and a chronic Philippine poverty that by some measurements has worsened.
His troubles bear a superficial resemblance to the pressures that brought disorder and revolution to Iran-Moslem nationalism, leftist guerrilla attachks, economic unrest and a large U.S. military presence that grates on nationalist sensitivities.
While Marcos has relaxed some features of martial law, he has shown he is determined to suppress any signs of disorder and demonstrations of unrest. When local prices rose in reaction to the worldwide oil price increase, Marcos warned that protests would be considered subversive and policed arrested 15 young dissidents who had painted slogans such as "fight rising prices" and "revolution is the answer."
Such incidents have led some of the presidents's critics to believe that he fears most the kind of public disorder that preceded the fall of the shah of Iran.
"I think that Marcos is bothered by what happened in Iran," said former senator Jose Diokno, an opposition leader who was detained for two years. "It was a series of disorders that brought down the shah, Marcos is not worried about armed revolt but about disorders in Manila about strikes and demonstrations. He's worried about the effect that would have in bringing down the government. He'd have to pull the troops out of Mindanao [in the south] and that worries him to death."
The parallel with Iran is not very exact. Moslems are a small minority in this Catholic country and their goal is to gain autonomy in the southern provinces, not to topple he Marcos government in Manila.
Still, the 5-year-old war against the Moro National Liberation Front is a financially draining exercise in Mindanao and the southern islands and even the government does not claim it is winning in a military sense.
In recent months, the war has changed from one of large-scale battles in the field to fierce skirmishes and the casulties have increased. The military provides few details to foreign journalists but acknowledges that it is large a war of ambushes. One military official said: "When a unit calls in a report of an ambush, we always ask, 'Who fired first?' That way we can know who won. The side that fires first always is the winner."
The government insists it is winning the allegiance of poor Moslem neutrals by building hospitals and schools and offering resettlement and jobs in safe areas.
But its claims of widespread pacification are disputed by non-Moslem citizens in Mindanao interviewed recently. They say the countryside outside many cities and villages is controlled by the insurgents and that the reports of front leaders being captured are exaggerated.
"If you count the number of them that the government claims to have surrendered it would be more than the number of all the people living in the hills," said a Catholic priest in Mindanao.
Many believe that the even more shadowy conflict with communist guerrillas of the New People's Army is potentially more threatening to the Marcos government. There have been violent, widely scattered terrorist attacks from Luzon in the north to several southern villages recently.
Judging from fragmentary reports available in Manila, the Communists also have been able to make common cause with peasants and farmers in certain districts. In northern Luzon's Chico Valley, where tribesmen are outraged by a government power project that would flood their tribal lands, communist guerillas are gaining friends by leading assaults against government agents. In one village of central Luzon, the New People's army reportedly has tripled its strength in the past few months.
American sources tend to discount the communist forces as an imminent threat and estimate the number of armed rebels of no more than 3,000. They admit their information is sketchy. But one military source who has investigated scenes of turbulence recently said he believes the guerrillas are preparing slowly for a larger war.
"These are small, quasi-military groups that do selective assassinations and terrorism," the sources said. "They can't do much now but what they do is very professional.
"I think it is really dormant in the north now, despite those incidents. At this stage they are building their cadres but when they do take to the field it is going to escalate drastically. There will come a time when it is going to erupt and it is going to be a coordinated action."
A side effect of both wars is a growing resentment among Filipinos at the behavior of government troops. Many are raw recruits having little discipline and their abuses of citizens have grown to proportions of a major scandal.
It is charged that young troops have murdered and raped in several southern villages and have fired randomly in innocent bystanders. Teenaged recruits in Zamboanga are seen idling on the streets while on leave, automatic rifles casually slung over their shoulder.
One government critic who have collected accounts of such abuses cites these examples: Near Davao, a colonel's driver wen unpunished after he shot and killed a jitney driver in an argument over a minor road accident. A priest in another town was beaten by two soldiers who were angered when he failed to drive fast enough on a country road.
The military leadership has become alarmed by abuses, which reportedly result in 150 complaints a day. Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile has promised to curb them.
In a hint at the extent of abuses, the commanding general of the Army's 4th Infantry Division recently recounted some of the crimes alleged against soldiers on Basilan, a southern island. They ranged from homicide to rape to misuse of public funds, said Brig. Gen. Angelo C. Quedding who disclosed that 587 cases brought against that division had been "resolved."
The chronic poverty that Marcos inherited when he imposed martial law in 1972 is regarded by some observers, chiefly Westerners, as the greatest long-term threat to his rule. The gap between the poor and the wealthy is strikingly visible in Manila, where luxury hotels and shiny new office buildings back up on miserable slums. The government's reforms have had little impact on what one Western economist calls "one of the worst distributions of income anywhere in the world." The poorest 60 percent of the people get 27 percent of the national income.
The legal minimum wage is 13 pesos a day about $2, and it covers only about 25 percent of those employed. Inflation has cut away a considerable amount of their buying power. According to government statistics, real wages have declined by 32 percent in that past eight years. Int metropolitan Manila, Marcos acknowledged in a recent speech, the peso's purchasing power is slightly less than half what is was in 1972, when martial law began. CAPTION: Map, no caption, By Richard Furno-The Washington Post; Picture, FERDINAND E. MARCOS . . . determined to suppress unrest