Stating that they were "shocked" by former president Ferdinand Marcos' accumulation of hidden wealth, some of his key allies in the Philippine National Assembly announced a definitive break today with the former leader.
At a press conference, former labor minister Blas Ople, a longtime Marcos associate and a member of the assembly, announced the formation of a new political party that would cut all links with Marcos. The new group will be called the Nationalist Party of the Philippines.
Ople and other members of Marcos' crumbling New Society Movement have accused the deposed president of attempting to give them directions by telephone from his exile in Hawaii. U.S. officials were quoted earlier in the week as saying Marcos had made extensive telephone calls to Manila, apparently in an effort to continue exercising political influence.
"We're leaving the party because we don't like taking orders from Hawaii," said another assemblyman, Manuel Collantes.
Ople, 59, managed Marcos' election campaign and held senior positions in his governments for 19 years. Nevertheless, he enjoyed a reputation for outspokenness despite his loyalty to the former president and was believed to have presidential ambitions of his own.
Ople, who has been designated to lead the new political party, apparently hopes that by breaking with Marcos and by acquiescing in President Corazon Aquino's rise to power, he and other members of the breakaway group will be able to prolong the life of the existing legislature and turn themselves into a viable opposition.
But Aquino is under heavy pressure from many of her supporters to scrap the existing system and declare a revolutionary government to govern until a new constitution can be written and new legislative elections held.
Aquino government officials are talking about holding new legislative elections late this year.
Many Filipinos seem to doubt that Ople and his colleagues will succeed in forming a viable party.
In their view, the former Marcos loyalists waited too long to make their break with Marcos and must have known a great deal about his hidden wealth well before they decided to bolt the party.
Ople told reporters today that the evidence was now unmistakable that Marcos had set a "record of organized pillage without precedent in our history."
"We feel he has betrayed our hopes and our trust," said Ople.
It was unclear just how many supporters the new party will have. According to one estimate, Marcos' old party soon will be left with only 10 to 15 members of the 190-seat assembly, where until recently it held a two-thirds majority.
Ople's breakaway group claims to be attracting support from about 90 percent of the old New Society Movement membership, but only about a third have aligned themselves formally with the new group thus far.
The party had been unswervingly loyal to Marcos and dominated the assembly that pronounced him the winner over Aquino in the Feb. 7 presidential election.
In another development, Joker Arroyo, Aquino's executive secretary, told local reporters that the government was concerned about what he described as the slow pace at which the U.S. government was moving to examine documents and money flown by the U.S. Air Force to Hawaii on behalf of Marcos. The Aquino government has laid claim to the documents, arguing that they will help in the search for "ill-gotten" Marcos wealth.
Correspondent Jonathan C. Randal added from Manila:
Cesar Virata, prime minister under Marcos and Aquino, told reporters that a White House official called him during the final military showdown here last month to implore that he intercede with rebels to dissuade them from attacking the presidential palace.
Virata said Dick Childress, an official at the National Security Council, called him after a rebel helicopter attacked the palace. Childress, according to Virata, expressed concern that another attack could prompt Gen. Fabian Ver, Marcos' military chief, to order loyalist troops to attack civilians gathered at strategic points to protect rebel leaders.
U.S. Embassy officials would not confirm the call but said Childress works for the NSC, The Associated Press reported.
Virata said he talked to Aquino about 4 p.m. on Feb. 25, just hours before Marcos fled the palace. He said he urged her to restrain her military leaders and relayed to her what he said was an implied threat by Childress to cut U.S. military aid.
Virata said he told Aquino that funds she wanted to use for development would have to be spent on arms if full-scale fighting broke out.
When he asked Aquino her minimum conditions, Virata said, she replied that Marcos and his family must leave the Philippines.
Virata, who became prime minister in 1981, said that he attempted to resign from Marcos' government after the rebellion began but that Marcos responded ambiguously. He said he has also offered his resignation to Aquino, who has appointed Vice President Salvador Laurel prime minister-designate, but he has received no response.