Being the woman President in a country known for the macho style of its politics has been a special burden for Corazon Aquino. One of the most spiteful putdowns she had to endure during her campaign for the presidency early this year was Ferdinand Marcos' contention that a woman's proper place was in the bedroom. Last week she savored some sweet revenge. Speaking before a group of businesswomen in Manila, she referred to the deposed Marcos as the "first male chauvinist to underestimate me," though presumably not the last. Then Mrs. President, as she now likes to be called, added feistily, "It is not I who have been consigned to the bedroom of history."
Aquino spent a good part of the week cleaning up the mess left after the firing of another man who had underestimated her, former Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile. Having dismissed Enrile a fortnight ago after accusations that he was plotting against her, she was now slowly revamping her Cabinet at the urging of her armed forces Chief of Staff General Fidel Ramos and other military leaders. Aquino had earlier announced the removal of Natural Resources Minister Ernesto Maceda and Public Works Minister Rogaciano Mercado, whose ministries had been accused of corruption. Last week she added Minister of Local Government Aquilino Pimentel to the list, though she kept him in the Cabinet as a special adviser on national affairs. Aquino also reportedly accepted the resignation of Labor Minister Augusto Sanchez.
The President admits that the Cabinet cleaning has not been easy. Addressing a conference of military commanders, she noted that the shake-up "involved men who were loyal and devoted friends of my late husband's. They served me well. But the call of national unity required me to remove them." She continued, "I tell you this, for you too have had friends that duty required you to change. I tell you this because you, more than anyone else, understand that duty and country must come first, for the soldier as well as for the commander in chief."
The military's role will be particularly crucial starting this week, when a 60-day truce with Communist rebels goes into effect. The army has been suspicious of possible Communist moves during the cease-fire and has been making contingency plans to counter them. The new Defense Minister Rafael Ileto called on the armed forces last week to remain united and be prepared either to cooperate with the insurgents if a "constructive situation" develops or to take "armed action if and when the talks break down." An early failure of the truce is not unlikely. Last week the outlawed Communist Party called the cease-fire period "much too short and the obstacles still too great" to lead easily to a negotiated settlement.
Most observers in Manila believe the Communists would like to participate in a coalition government. In fact, there is already speculation about possible alliances involving the Communists for the elections set for next spring. At the same time, however, the Aquino government has emphasized that it would never be a party to such a coalition. The President has even avoided a meeting with Communist cease-fire negotiators, her spokesman Teodoro Benigno explained last week, because the aim of the organization they represent is "to topple the government by revolution."