Marcos readies his troops for trouble. Philippine officials predict narrow win, expect protests
President Ferdinand Marcos appears to be readying his troops for trouble following Friday's presidential election. The Philippine military is bracing itself for possible mass protests this weekend and, in addition, preparing for an intensified push against communist insurgents, senior government officials say. But these officials, both civilian and military, are apprehensive about the reaction of government troops if they are called on to suppress large-scale, post-election demonstrations.
Interviewed in the northern city of Tuguegarao Monday, Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile said that opposition candidate Corazon Aquino was putting up an unexpectedly good showing. The ruling party had originally expected to win by a large margin (Mr. Marcos has been talking of a landslide). ``This margin will not be accomplished,'' Mr. Enrile said, ``but we will win.''
Another senior government official, in an interview yesterday, predicted a ``very narrow'' margin of victory for Marcos. (The official asked that he not be identified.) Mrs. Aquino, he said, would probably lose by a margin of 1 million to 2.5 million. ``But if we miscalculate, Marcos may lose by this margin,'' the official added. Defense Minister Enrile told the Monitor that, for the sake of prudence, the government is planning for the worst after the election. The opposition will probably claim that they have been cheated, Enrile said: ``They will generate demonstrations and civil disobedience.''
He said the worst-case scenario might include: ``massive group actions and massive rioting.'' Faced with this, he said, ``we will move back and move back -- unless they push us to the wall.''
The senior official quoted earlier expressed concern about the protests. If there is a widespread perception that the election was stolen, he said, ``it is going to be a difficult time for us. . . . The possible consequences would not be very pleasant.''
Aquino has said that she would lead demonstrations if there are signs that she was cheated. Last Saturday she warned that a ``frustrated and angry people might resort to violence'' if the election results appeared fraudulent. But she said she would continue to preach nonviolence.
Left-wing opposition groups that have been lukewarm to the election itself are also expected to call major protests if election returns appear fraudulent. Such protests would probably include nationwide strikes.
Some government officials and military officers are worried at the prospect of having to order troops out against the demonstrators.
At a recent left-wing demonstration, this correspondent spoke to three members of the elite Presidential Security Command guarding Malacaang palace, Marcos's residence. Two of the soldiers who were manning the barbed-wire barricades in front of the palace said they would vote for Aquino. A third soldier expressed some unhappiness at having to confront the demonstrators and said that he did not consider them to be bad people. A reformist military officer says this is a widespread feeling in the military.
The senior government official -- a loyal, active Marcos supporter -- said he was advising against the use of the military in suppressing any demonstrations. ``Once you use force, you never know the outcome,'' he said.
``For a while, you can ask your military to handle the crowd. But once people are killed, and [troops] see the blood of their countrymen being shed, they may have different thoughts.''
President Marcos ruled out any problem with the military after the election. ``The entire Armed Forces of the Philippines,'' he said, ``will support a legitimately elected president, whoever he is.''
Marcos has appeared to take a tough line against the opposition in the last few days, claiming that they -- not he -- are planning fraud.
He alleges that opposition leaders are backed by the communists. And speaking at a press conference Feb. 1, he said that ``illegitimate'' opponents -- communists -- would be ``wiped out.''
Defense Minister Enrile said he expected Marcos to turn his attention to the communist insurgents immediately after the election. His estimate of guerrilla strength coincided almost exactly with the guerrillas' own estimate: 10,000 to 12,000, Enrile said, compared with the guerrilla estimate of 12,500.
``You must give them credit,'' Enrile said. ``I can't say it will be easy to take them on. They can choose their place and their time.''
Military reforms that have been presented to the President, but not yet acted upon, will probably be put into effect, Enrile said. These would include the formation of larger combat battalions for use against guerrillas the communist New People's Army.