MANILA -- Vice President Salvador Laurel, the Philippines' self-described "unemployed vice president," spends his days playing golf, working to revive his splintered political machine and explaining to reporters his decision last month to break officially with President Corazon Aquino.

Since tendering his "irrevocable resignation" as foreign secretary Sept. 8 in the midst of a major Cabinet shake-up, Laurel has steadfastly denied that he is joining the anti-Aquino opposition. Yet he has continued to lambaste the president for what he considers a failure to marshal all of the nation's resources to fight a tenacious communist insurgency.

"I told her our nation is like a house on fire," Laurel said in a recent interview, repeating a phrase he has used often in past weeks. "You want to water the plants. You want to clean the toilet. You want to cook lunch. And I want to use all the water to put out the fire."

He added, "I'm in the opposition insofar as her handling of the insurgency is concerned."

While still Aquino's vice president, which makes him next in the line of succession, he is also flirting with the political opposition. He announced in the interview that his Unido Party will likely form a "tactical alliance" with the opposition Nacionalista Party of opposition Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile to field common candidates when local elections are held next year.

Fence-straddling is not a rare characteristic in a country where politicians are often referred to as balimbings, a native-grown fruit with several distinct sides. Surviving has also been the hallmark of the Laurel clan, from patriarch Jose P. Laurel Sr., who became wartime president during the Japanese occupation, to the current vice president, who only broke from now-deposed president Ferdinand Marcos in the late 1970s, when it became politically convenient.

Laurel's current jockeying -- largely dismissed by progovernment commentators as political opportunism -- has added another element of uncertainty to the complex political scene here.

By offering to form an alliance with an opposition not completely beholden to legal, constitutional processes, Laurel appears to be inviting a means of forcing Aquino from office through military pressure, thereby opening the way for his succession as president under the constitution.

{In an interview Monday with the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines, Laurel ruled out a role as figurehead president in the event of a military takeover, United Press International reported. He also dismissed U.S. threats to cut off aid to the Philippines if Aquino were overthrown in a coup, saying the United States, which maintains two large military bases here, will deal "with whoever is on the saddle."}

By remaining as vice president, Laurel can continue to harass the Aquino government from within. Over the last few weeks, for example, Laurel has come forth with a "Reds List," an intelligence agency report compiling the names of 150 alleged leftists and communist sympathizers in the Aquino government and in Congress.

In the interview, Laurel said he requested the list to back up concerns voiced by soldiers he surveyed that Aquino was under the influence of communist sympathizers in key government jobs.

Laurel had been considered the leading opposition politician to challenge Marcos until Corazon Aquino's sudden emergence on the political scene in late 1984, when the public rallied behind her after the 1983 assassination of her politician husband, Benigno Aquino. Laurel's decision to drop his own presidential bid is widely credited with uniting the opposition forces against Marcos.

Laurel said he decided to accept second billing to Aquino only after she accepted certain conditions, such as allowing him to run the government as "prime minister." But since then, Laurel says Aquino has not kept her promises.

Laurel, whose nickname is Doy, said he has been "out of the kulambo," a Tagalog expression that means "out of the mosquito net" but is generally understood to mean "out of the conjugal bed."

Laurel's current move from being Aquino's loyal teammate to an outspoken Aquino critic, he says, is a natural evolution.

"The group at the center that supported the Cory-Doy ticket was a motley crowd," he said. "After Marcos had gone to Honolulu, it couldn't stay together too long."