The outdated Filipino community newspapers stacked in the steamy Philippine consulate waiting room bore curious headlines: " 'No politician in the world who's gotten worse press than Marcos,' U.S. Sen. says."
"Pres. Reagan expects Marcos to win the Philippine election."
Here, after all, in this beautiful white-columned antebellum mansion built by a local sugar baron in 1905, one important thread of Ferdinand Marcos' ill-fated government began to unravel just three weeks ago. Seven members of the consulate staff announced that they could no longer support Marcos, setting off a chain reaction that spread to Philippine diplomatic outposts in Los Angeles, Hous- ton, San Francisco, Seattle and Chicago.
For two days, until Marcos fled Manila, they assumed that they would lose their jobs. When new President Corazon Aquino's victory vindicated them, they were hailed as heros, but there is little celebrating now.
Consul General Raul Rabe, the slim, youthful 46-year-old lawyer and career diplomat who took the first step, prefers not to discuss it at all. There is the matter of good manners. "When a gambler throws out his last card and wins, he does not brag about it," he said.
There is also the ticklish presence of Marcos, now living under U.S. protection just a few miles from the consulate, and Rabe's conviction that a substantial portion of the Filipino community still considers Rabe a traitor. Most of the 150,000 persons of Filipino descent here are from families originating in Marcos' old political base, the Ilocos region. "You listen to the call-in shows on KISA radio a station that plays Filipino music and caters to the community and you hear a lot of threats and harsh language."
Not only does Rabe fend off statements about the events of Feb. 22, but he keeps the old copies of the Hawaii Filipino News in his lobby. The paper's publisher, Francisco S. Ugale, was so enraged by Rabe's turning against Marcos that Ugale briefly discussed leading a crowd of volunteers to take over the consulate and lock out Rabe and his staff.
Rabe's cautious approach is not new. He is a doctor's son who attended the better Manila schools and learned early to proceed with care. Until the critical moment, he had not shared his feeling about Marcos' tainted Feb. 7 election with his staff. One staff member said Rabe merely told them what he planned to do and seemed surprised when six others joined in.
Houston consul general Rodolfo Severino Jr. has revealed in a Houston Chronicle article that Rabe was one of the few people he confided in as the situation at home deteriorated. Rabe told Severino that statements by diplomats in the public eye might dissuade Marcos from a bloody attack on two top military leaders who had launched a small rebellion in Manila. Rabe and the six others here issued their statement that "Ferdinand Marcos can no longer claim any legitimacy;" the next day, Houston and other posts followed suit.
Their announcements made world headlines and were broad- cast in Manila on a television station captured by the rebel forces. It gave further heart to the anti-Marcos movement, but Rabe does not want to talk about that now.
He must process the visas of the several anti-Marcos Filipinos returning home. He must watch the latest developments within the Marcos party and try to heal rifts in a very divided community.
Meanwhile, he sees little harm in leaving out the old newspapers with the pro-Marcos headlines. "People can do with them what they wish," he said. "Maybe they can wrap fish in them."