WORLD

Marcos’s spoiled victory

MARCUS GEE February 24 1986
WORLD

Marcos’s spoiled victory

MARCUS GEE February 24 1986

Marcos’s spoiled victory

WORLD

The gunshots that echoed through the San Jose de Buenavista town square last week were stark reminders of an uncertain future in the wake of the Philippines presidential election. As Evilio Javier, a local campaign manager for opposition candidate Corazon (Cory) Aquino and a former governor of Antique province, sat in the sun discussing politics with friends, two cars suddenly screeched to a halt and six masked gunmen leaped out firing automatic rifles. Javier, hit at least twice, escaped through alleys and hid in a backyard outhouse in the provincial capital. There, the assassins cornered and killed him.

Javier’s murder was one of almost 30 similar killings reported during or since the Feb. 7 election. It occurred the day after the Batasan, or national assembly, convened to resolve formally the bitter contest between President Ferdinand Marcos and Aquino. At week’s end, the assembly, empowered by law to make the only official review of returns from the 86,000 polling stations, announced its final count: 10,807,197 votes for Marcos, 9,291,716 for Aquino. Many Filipinos and outside observers had predicted that the Batasan count of the election returns would confirm the

Marcos victory reported in the preliminary—and suspect—vote count of the government’s Commission on Elections (COMELEC). The reason: Marcos supporters control about two-thirds of the Batasan’s 200 seats.

Aquino and her supporters continued to claim victory. And the credibility of the president’s lead had been un-

dermined earlier when 35 COMELEC computer technicians walked off the job and said that they were being forced to falsify the returns in the president’s favor. Other indications of electoral fraud continued to surface as well. In Manila—an Aquino stronghold-only 2.5 million official votes were tabulated, even though the city had 4.3 million registered voters. And in the Turtle Islands in the southern

Philippines, Marcos received 1,125 votes—even though the islands had only 588 registered voters.

In California, President Ronald Reagan said on the weekend that widespread fraud and violence during the election had been carried out mainly by Marcos’s supporters. He added, “It was so extreme that the election’s credibility has been called into question both within the Philippines and in the United States.” His statement made no reference to the possibility of wrongdoing by Aquino supporters and it seemed to reflect the findings of members of the 20-strong U.S. observer team that had monitored the election. Said Richard McCall, an aide to Senator John Kerry, one of the observers: “The ability of the opposition to pull off any fraud was just nil.” And in Ottawa Canadian Senator Alasdair Graham, one of 43 members of an international observer team that monitored balloting in 300 communities, said that Marcos had the means to rig the election. Added Graham: “He carried out the deed.”

The U.S. state department instructed Ambassador Stephen W. Bosworth in Manila to assure Aquino that the United States was not taking sides. And Reagan dispatched veteran diplomatic troubleshooter Philip Habib to

the Asian archipelago “to assess the desires and needs of the Filipino people.” Earlier in the week Reagan angered many Filipinos when he appeared to blame both sides for election fraud. Some of them declared that the United States was more concerned with keeping its two military bases north of Manila than with the country’s welfare. Luis Beltran, editor of the opposition Philippine Daily Inquirer, for one, wrote that Reagan’s remarks reinforced “a suspicion that he would not mind if Marcos transformed the country into a cemetery— as long as he had landing rights.” Meanwhile, even before the Batasan’s proclamation of the official result, protests spread through the streets. Aquino’s supporters chanted “Cory Aquino is our president” as they escorted Javier’s cortege through Manila to a funeral mass for the ex-governor at a suburban soccer stadium. Mourners applauded the reading of a statement issued by the Catholic Bishops Conference that challenged Marcos’s claim to victory. Despite the corruption of the results, the bishops declared, “it is morally certain that the people’s real will for change has been manifested. A government that assumes or maintains power through fraudulent means has no moral basis.” At the same time, the leaders of the Roman Catholic Church—which claims the allegiance of 85 per cent of the country’s 54 million people—called for a nonviolent struggle for “justice.” Aquino had said she would lead daily protest demonstrations, beginning with a rally in Manila on Sunday, but Bishop Teodoro Bacani said that a campaign of civil disobedience is an alternative to demonstrations that could become violent. He added: “The anger of the people is already seething. They have now seen how evil the government machine has become.”

The opposition blamed Batasan majority leader Arturo Pacificador for Javier’s murder—and other Marcos supporters for the killing two days later of Aquino campaign worker Arsenio Cainglet, who was shot by four hooded men in front of his home in Tarlac, Aquino’s home province. At week’s end, Aquino spokesmen also reported the deaths of eight more opposition workers, three of them women who had been raped, then beheaded or mutilated. Despite the uncertainty, many Filipinos insisted that the struggle has resulted in what one opposition newspaper called an “infection of courage” to resist the 20-year Marcos presidency. But the issue for Filipinos at week’s end was whether courage alone could slow or even turn the course of the mighty Marcos machine.

— MARCUS GEE in Manila