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President Aquino Orders Land Reform Program Drafted

March 3, 1987

MANILA, Philippines (AP) _ Hours before President Corazon Aquino declared ″everything is okay″ here, a lieutenant colonel and his driver were killed Tuesday in what was feared could be the start of a Communist terror campaign in Manila.

Mrs. Aquino also directed her Cabinet on Tuesday to draft a comprehensive land reform program and said she may sign it into law before a new, two- chamber Congress convenes in July.

At her first news conference of the year, Mrs. Aquino signed an executive order to use funds from the sale of bankrupt companies, foreclosed by the government years ago, to finance any new land reform program. She said she plans to augment those funds with foreign loans.

Land reform is a major issue here.

Hundreds of peasants marched near the presidential palace Tuesday to protest findings of a government commission which blamed both demonstrators and security forces for the shooting deaths of 12 people in the capital during a land reform march Jan. 22.

At a suburban Manila intersection Tuesday, three men walked up to a jeep stopped at a traffic light and shot to death Lt. Col. Benjamin Casabar and driver Sgt. Alberto Lorenzana in front of stunned motorists.

Police reported no known suspects. The government’s Philippine News Agency quoted unidentified military intelligence agents, however, as saying they feared the shooting was the start of an urban terror campaign by Communist assassins known as ″sparrows.″

The news agency quoted the agents as saying the killing of Casabar, controller of the military’s Civil Relations Service, was similar to assassinations carried out by Communist rebels in southern Davao City. The military described Davao, 610 miles southeast of Manila, as the ″laboratory″ for urban warfare techniques of the Communist New People’s Army.

The military says the rebels used a 60-day cease-fire which expired Feb. 8 to infiltrate about 750 members of the rebels’ ″sparrow units″ for a similar terror campaign in Manila, with police, military and civilian officials as primary targets.

Mrs. Aquino told the news conference she believes last month’s overwhelming voter ratification of a new constitution and coming elections have put an end to coup attempts which shook her government during its first year.

She cited the ″almost full″ restoration of democracy and the modest economic growth rate of 0.13 percent in 1986, after two years of decline, as her government’s ″outstanding achievement.″

″All things considered, I think everything is okay in the Philippines and that all will work well,″ she said.

She was asked if she would use her law-making power to enact land reform or pass the problem to the Congress, which is to be elected in May and convenes in July. She replied that she would act according to recommendations made by the Cabinet departments who will be drafting the program.

Until the new Congress is convened, Mrs. Aquino wields sole law-making power.

Mrs. Aquino said that ″if it is necessary that I enact (land reform) legislation ... we will do so.″

She indicated she will not voluntarily redistribute her family’s 14,820- acre sugar plantation, as demanded by leftists and Communist rebels, but will abide by Cabinet recommendations and whatever law emerges.

A land reform program was begun by President Ferdinand E. Marcos in 1973, but it was never substantially implemented. Marcos fled into exile in February 1986 during a civilian-military revolt.

Hours after Mrs. Aquino spoke, the Communist-led National Democratic Front said in a statement that her proposed land reform was ″largely a rehash″ of Marcos’ program intended to lure rebels into surrendering.

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