Three turbulent weeks after inheriting power amid something approaching national euphoria, President Corazon Aquino is coming under growing criticism from the political elite and the free-swinging Philippine press. Even some of her friends are worried that she may be losing her political momentum.
Much of the criticism appears centered on her indecision on whether to declare a "revolutionary government." She has also been criticized for the arbitrary freezing of suspect individual bank accounts and for sloppy staff work that reportedly resulted in three applicants being named to the same government job.
Even the president's friends and strongest supporters apparently are worried enough to plead in public for patience and understanding.
Cardinal Jaime Sin, the powerful Roman Catholic archbishop of Manila whose support for Aquino was crucial in the election and the military rebellion that led to the ouster of Ferdinand Marcos, recently said that a 100-day criticism-free political honeymoon was owed a government he likened to a "child just learning to walk."
The danger, according to members of the professional elite who say they are sympathetic to Aquino, is that in the learning process, the new president may be losing that most precious of political commodities -- momentum.
The Aquino government's greatest asset remains the genuine public trust the president inspires after the legacy of 20 years of Marcos' authoritarian rule. That trust shows few immediate signs of erosion despite the mixed performance of her administration on the major issues facing the Philippines, observers said. Visitors who have seen Aquino report that she does not appear disturbed about the criticism.
So far, the government has focused on more immediately popular issues such as releasing political prisoners, recovering the "hidden wealth" Marcos stashed abroad or establishing a Human Rights Commission to investigate Marcos' alleged abuses.
But Aquino, who does not have personal political experience or the cushion of a transition period, faces major long-term problems: an economic crisis of historic proportions, the presence of Marcos' still formidable political organization, a growing Communist insurgency that shows no sign of waning despite her calls for negotiations and a cease-fire and a $26 billion foreign debt whose repayment swallows half of the country's foreign-exchange earnings.
Within the modest guest house she prefers to the Marcos' formal Malacanang Palace, which has been turned into a museum, the president is given many different ideological currents and conflicting advice.
With the seeming exception of the economy, where conservative Finance Minister Jaime Ongpin, a businessman, is emerging as a trusted power center, all major problems are left to Aquino for a final decision, political observers said.
Of the four main competing groups of advisers around Aquino, Ongpin is identified with a group educated at Jesuit-run Ateneo University in suburban Manila.
Human rights lawyers such as Joker Arroyo, Aquino's executive secretary, and her spokesman, Rene Saguisag, form another group.
Vice President Salvador Laurel, who is also prime minister and foreign minister, exercises real influence because of his well-organized political party, known as Unido, which played a major role in turning out the vote for the Feb. 7 presidential elections.
Aquino's brother, Jose (Peping) Cojuangco, although without a formal government post in keeping with the president's antinepotism policy, also counts among the advisers because of his leadership in the Peoples Democratic Party-Laban alliance that backed Aquino.
Because of conflicting advice, Aquino is grappling with the issue of whether her regime is revolutionary or transitional. Although even discredited Marcos politicians and Communist insurgents say they recognize her good will, she has yet to decide on that issue.
"In equally dramatic circumstances, in the middle of the Algerian war," a retired diplomat recalled, "General de Gaulle came back to power in 1958 and ran France basically thanks to a compact with the French people until he could put the institutions of his Fifth Republic in place. But he was an experienced statesman."
Essentially, Aquino must decide whether to keep or dissolve the Marcos-dominated legislature, whether a constitution should be written by "wise men" or by a popularly elected constituent assembly, and how she should rule until new general elections, now expected as early as November.
If, as many of her allies suggest, she keeps the present assembly now that many Marcos politicians have pledged to back her, she could pay the price if they change their minds and block her program.
Moreover, staying with an assembly elected in 1984 under Marcos' rule could provide grist for the Communists who say her middle-class government is incapable of reforming Philippine society.
But the logical alternative, ruling with emergency powers until a new constitution can be written and ratified, also presents problems. During her campaign, Aquino condemned the Marcos-drafted 1973 constitution's Amendment Six, which gave the president virtually total powers to rule by decree.
A more potentially disruptive problem concerns the growing evidence that the Communist insurgents are spurning her efforts to coax them back into the political mainstream.
Her human rights lawyers are still said to favor an amnesty of sorts, perhaps applicable at first on a selective, provincial basis, but the armed forces are skeptical at best.