If a map of the Philippines could be designed to depict political unrest, it would show a country apparently ablaze with revolutionary fires.
In northern Luzon, on the eastern island of Samar, and far south as Davao, a Maoist guerrilla army grows in size and scope of attacks.
In Manila, amateurish terrorists from the middle class set off bombs and start fires and warn President Ferdinand Marcos that worse things are coming.
In the south, a draining war against Moslem separatists continues. Less violent dissent flourishes in almost every province -- among Roman Catholic priests, established politicians, labor movements and students.
Hanging over it all is a pervasive sense of distrust of Marcos' eight-year rule under martial law. "When the first bombs exploded" in Manila late in August, "I would estimate that 95 percent of the people I talked to thought the government itself was doing it," a diplomat based here said. People suspected that the president wanted to frighten the public into accepting continued martial law, he said. "Now I'd say the proportion is down to 50 percent."
Despite the sound and fury, most observers with a bit of detachment do not think the Marcos' rule is on the rocks. They say the opposition is broad but they do not know how deep it runs. They regard Marcos as an adept ruler in touch with the realities of his country and able to contain the violence. There are regions, they concede, where the Marcos writ does not run but the opposition to his rule is divided in goals and ideology.
"When you start counting it all up," observed an Asian diplomat who keeps track of the discontent, "the numbers are small." He believes the numbers may grow and he thinks the Philippines eventually could undergo a revolution. He does not think it is approaching that stage now.
Another well-informed diplomat acknowledged that the Manila bombings represent "a new level of viciousness" by an alienated opposition. "Will it topple Marcos? I think not," he added.
Scenarios for revolution founder on two realities: there is no cohesion among the opposition forces and no consensus on an alternative.
The Maoists in the countryside want a Marxist state and look to China as the model for government. The radical clergy is anticommunist and although seemingly prone to accept the idea of symbolic violence, it shows no interest in armed revolution. The Moslems want an Islamic state in the south and have little interest in who runs the rest of the country.
The moderate opposition, composed mostly of disenfranchised legislators from pre-martial law days, are the most likely successors through a peaceful change of governments, but evidence of their appeal to the masses is hard to find.
If all of those pieces somehow were put together they could form a united opposition of formidable proportions. There is fragmentary evidence that links are being formed. Many students and some professional people have joined the communist New People's Army, the government concedes, bringing its strength to about 5,400 guerrillas. The self-styled urban guerrllas in Manila are believed to have linked up with the Moslems in the south and some sources believe the Communists have, too.
There is no doubt that Marcos' popularity with the educated middle class has eroded in the last two years, largely as a reaction to his tactics in seeking absolute control. Fraud and roughouse treatment of political opponents in both the 1978 interim assembly elections and last January's local elections turned away many onetime supporters.
The conservative, influential Laurel family faction is a prime example. A dominating force in the old Nationalist Party, from which Marcos sprang, the Laurels have now joined up with other opposition leaders in a semblance of unity. The reason is simple: Marcos tried to cheat them in the local elections and the Laurels went over to the other side.
"Marcos is dividing people into two camps," said Salvador Laurel, a member of the rubber-stamp interim assembly. "You are either pro-Marcos and pro-martial law or you are anti-both. The choice is becoming either dictatorship or anarchy. We are trying to present a third choice of constitutional democracy."
The Laurels and the rest of the middle-class opposition are about as revolutionary as the old Byrd machine in Virginia, but they are also just as hungry for a piece of power and time is slipping by. Marcos has taunted them with charges that they have no program of their own and they concede that has been true. Now they are preparing a document called "an alternative program of government" and hope it will provide a broad base of support.
Many observers here believe Marcos could defuse a potential confrontation with a stroke of the pen, by lifting martial law. One source who says he is in contact with the Manila terrorists insists that they would lay down their bombs and arson kits if the president gave an absolute promise to lift martial rule. Others think it would stop the sons and daughters of Manila's middle class from slipping off to fight alongside the Maoist guerrillas.
Although Marcos dangled that promise before the opposition at least three times, he has yet to offer a convincing schedule for ending martial law and the system of military tribunals that are probably the most hated symbols of his rule.
His current stance is to promise to consider ending martial law in one breath and in the next hedge the promise in such a fashion that no one on the other side believes him. He has said repeatedly this year that he will lift martial law in March if the economy is in good shape and if the Moslem rebellion in the south is tamed. The problem is that the economy is too shaky to be revived by March and the Moslem rebellion has been going on for about four centuries, critics point out.
That cynical assessment is not shared by everyone, not even by all of Marcos most fervent enemies. A segment of opinion in the opposition ranks hold that the president genuinely wants to end the Philippine confrontation He could do it, one of the strongest critics said, simply by declaring that the two conditions -- the economic revival and peace with the Moslems -- have been met. People would go along with that even if the facts were obviously otherwise, he predicted, and both Marcos and his enemies would be winners.
Why would Marcos do that after so many past evasions?"He doesn't want to go down as the man who ruled only by the gun," the critic replied. "He's 63 and he wants his place in history."