Zoning Dispute Could Escalate Into Row Between Moscow and Manila
MANILA, Philippines (AP) _ A dispute between rich Manila homeowners and their soon-to-be Soviet neighbors threatens to boil over into a major diplomatic row between President Corazon Aquino’s government and the Kremlin.
At issue is the new Soviet chancellery, under construction in the plush Forbes Park district of Makati, Manila’s most affluent suburb.
The Forbes Park Association claims the Soviets are violating zoning rules by erecting a multi-story ″office and apartment building″ in an area limited to single residences.
Residents, including some of Manila’s wealthiest citizens, have been picketing the construction site for weeks. The association’s lawyer, Felix Carao Jr., said the residents also will picket the Department of Foreign Affairs to demand cancellation of a 1984 agreement entered into by the former government of Ferdinand Marcos.
The agreement, concluded during a period when Marcos was flirting with the Soviet Union, allowed the Soviets to purchase a lot in Forbes Park and build their embassy there.
Vice President Salvador Laurel, who also serves as foreign secretary, told reporters Thursday that the Philippine government will seek ″rectification ″ of the agreement to appease the angry homeowners.
Since the dispute began months ago, the Philippine intelligence service, and even the Americans, are getting into the act.
The government’s National Intelligence Coordinating Agency has expressed concern that the new Soviet chancellery overlooks Fort Bonifacio, headquarters of the Philippine Army.
Agency officials have complained to Manila newspapers that the chancellery’s antennae may be able to intercept secret army communications.
Intelligence officials are already nervous about possible links between the Soviets and communist rebels, although both sides vehemently deny that any ties exist.
Soviet diplomats have hinted that the Americans, who wield considerable influence here, are egging on Forbes Park residents.
U.S. Charge d’Affaire Philip Kaplan denied the United States was behind the dispute.
″Filipino people presumably have freedom of speech and can say what they want to say,″ Kaplan told Filipino reporters. But Kaplan added, ″There’s a lot of antennae that spring into the sky around the Soviet Embassy″ in Washington.
U.S. officials have complained of Soviet electronic eavesdropping in Washington. Members of Congress have called for dismantling the new American Embassy in Moscow because it is allegedly riddled with listening devices planted by the Russians.
Soviet Embassy spokesman Viktor Samoilenko has branded the spy charges ″ridiculous″ and ″not worth commenting on.″ He said the embassy would allow the Makati government’s architect to inspect the building once construction is complete.
″We are prepared to observe all the rules of the Republic of the Philippines,″ Samiolenko said in a statement Thursday. ″This means that the laws of the country on building inspection after completion will be observed.″
Sen.-elect Leticia Ramos-Shahani, former undersecretary for foreign affairs, told reporters the Marcos government made a mistake in allowing the Soviets to purchase property here without demanding similar rights in Moscow.
In the Soviet Union, land is owned by the state.
″That’s where we went wrong,″ said Mrs. Ramos-Shahani, sister of military Chief of Staff Gen. Fidel V. Ramos. ″We should have exacted the other end of the bargain.″
She suggested the two sides enter in negotiations allowing the Philippines to obtain a permanent lease for its embassy in Moscow.