President Ferdinand Marcos today appeared to back away from an earlier pledge to retire the armed forces chief of staff, Gen. Fabian Ver, before next month's presidential election.
In an appearance before a businessmen's organization, Marcos cited "factionalism" in the Philippine armed forces as a reason for retaining Ver, despite U.S. objections that he was an obstacle to urgently needed reforms in the military.
Following a year-long leave of absence, Ver, 66, a supporter and cousin of the president, was reinstated by Marcos as chief of staff last month when he was acquitted of charges of being an accessory to the 1983 assassination of opposition leader Benigno S. Aquino Jr.
"You just don't retire a chief of staff whose leave of absence started some difficulties in the armed forces," Marcos said in an open forum following an address to the Makati Business Club. "Factionalism has started, encouraged I'm afraid by some of our well-meaning and well-intentioned friends." He did not elaborate on who these friends were.
In previous statements, Marcos had indicated that the "factionalism" in the armed forces stemmed from a rivalry between followers of Ver and of Lt. Gen. Fidel Ramos, a West Point graduate who replaced Ver temporarily during his leave of absence. U.S. officials have made it clear that Washington would like to see Ramos assume the post permanently.
Ver has been quoted as saying that he is "ready to retire at the pleasure of the president," but he has not indicated when this might occur.
Marcos said today that Ramos "was supposed to take over" from Ver as chief of staff, but was "involved" in an incident in September in the central town of Escalante in which at least 21 demonstrators were killed by government paramilitary forces. Ramos made a statement, based on information from a local military commander, that the government forces had acted in "self-defense."
A fact-finding panel implicated Ramos in a cover-up on the basis of the statement, and he has offered to resign. Marcos has not accepted the resignation but has indicated that Ramos cannot replace Ver while the Escalante case is pending. He suggested today that there was no one else qualified to take over Ver's post.
By reinstating Ver upon his acquittal, Marcos defied warnings from Washington that "a firestorm in Congress" would result, endangering U.S. aid. Secretary of State George P. Shultz described the reinstatement as "a problem," and U.S. officials said it hurt efforts to promote sweeping military reforms needed to restore professionalism in the armed forces and counter a growing Communist insurgency.
A few days after the reinstatement, Marcos said both Ver and Ramos would retire "in about a week." Both have been extended in active service by Marcos beyond mandatory retirement age and are among a group of "overstaying generals" whose removal is sought by reform-minded younger officers.
More than a month after his statement on retiring Ver and Ramos in a week, Marcos said Jan. 14 that Ver "will probably" retire before the Feb. 7 election.