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Showdown between Marcos, Aquino looms

A head-on confrontation is apparently looming between President Ferdinand Marcos and his opponent Corazon Aquino. Mrs. Aquino has declared herself the victor in Friday's election and has called on Mr. Marcos to meet her early this week to discuss a smooth transition. She has threatened daily demonstrations if he does not step down.

Aquino's claims were fueled early this morning by a statement by 30 computer workers at vote-tallying headquarters of the largely government-appointed Commission on Elections (Comelec). The group said that figures showing votes for Marcos were being updated regularly, while the figures for Aquino were not.

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``The computer inputs are all valid; the computer programs are all valid,'' the computer workers said. The discrepancy, they said, lay in what was actually written on the tally boards on the wall of the Philippines' International Conference Center, where Comelec's ``quick count'' was taking place. The computer workers said they had brought with them computer disks that would prove the election was being manipulated in Marcos's favor.

At press time, vote counting was way behind schedule. Comelec had tabulated fewer than 30 percent and put Marcos ahead by 150,000 votes. The independent National Citizens' Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel) had compiled 46 percent of the votes and put Aquino ahead by more than 700,000 votes.

There were strong signs Sunday that the Roman Catholic Church here is throwing its weight behind Aquino. At a mass Sunday night -- requested by Aquino and attended by several thousand people -- Jaime Cardinal Sin called on Filipinos to continue to work for an honest result in the election.

In the last few days, Cardinal Sin said, ``so many who for so many years have remained uninvolved had found the energy and courage to commit themselves.'' He asked employers and school principals to be understanding of ``necessary absences'' in the days ahead -- an obvious reference to the demonstrations planned by Aquino followers.

Aquino says the demonstrations will be nonviolent. Campaign workers say they will be confrontational -- designed to test the resolve of the regime and the willingness of troops to follow orders.

``They're not going to get any rampaging mobs from us,'' said one organizer. ``We'll just sit down in the streets, and if they order the troops to fire on us, we'll just see if they obey orders.'' At least one senior government official has in the past week showed concern that the armed forces might not follow orders if called on to disperse demonstrations by force.

The President, meanwhile, shows no sign of willingness to step down. A number of times, Marcos has stated his belief that he will win by a margin of about 2 million, and he has threatened to invoke unspecified contingency plans against demonstrators and arrest their leaders.

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The mood in Manila, two days after the voting, was still tense. Results were coming in very slowly, and in many areas the counting had not yet begun.

The Commission on Elections attributes the delay to the safeguards adopted to protect votes. Many observers attribute it to fraud.

In the past, delays in the arrival of voting returns have meant that new and spurious returns were being prepared. The suspicion is widespread that that is happening again. Over the weekend, for example, Sen. Richard Lugar (R) of Indiana was quoted as saying that the count was being ``manipulated'' by the government. Senator Lugar is here as head of an official US team of election observers.

Correspondents covering Friday's election, including this writer, saw signs of widespread, blatant, and apparently coordinated fraud by the ruling party. Many voters were unable to find their names on voting lists, and Namfrel said that -- in some areas of Manila -- 30-50 percent of the voters had that problem.

Other infractions witnessed by or reported to correspondents included violence, vote-buying, and ``flying voters'' -- those bussed from municipality to municipality to vote repeatedly for the ruling party. Incidents of harassment and physical intimidation experienced by this and other correspondents were the work of government supporters.

There were also instances of armed men seizing the returns or stopping the count and allegedly replacing real ballots with faked ones. Incidents like this make it difficult to distinguish between real and faked electoral returns, even among those that have already been tabulated.

The reaction to this fraud has been one of anger -- mixed in some cases with fear of government fire-power. In a number of areas of Manila, people massed outside municipal halls on election night to try to protect ballot boxes and thwart any efforts to switch them.

In at least one area of Manila -- Pasay -- the crowd was dispersed by riot police. In another, Makati, thousands of people -- from squatters and government workers to professionals and the city's social elite -- have been camping out in the courtyard of the municipal hall. Many have slept at least one night in the open; some have been there since election day.

There were a number of incidents during the Makati vigil. Saturday night, an American photographer accompanying this writer attempted to take a picture of a jeep containing automatic weapons. The photographer was jumped by three men and punched, his equipment was damaged, and he was forced to hand over the film in his camera.

On Saturday afternoon, other journalists followed a vehicle that they thought was being used to remove a ballot box from the courtyard. One photographer who gave chase said that the car passed unhindered through the main gate of Philippine Army headquarters. The gate was closed, and troops fired on one of the pursuing cars.

The final result may still be some time in coming. The National Assembly was scheduled to begin its count today. It is the only official canvass recognized by law. This is overseen by Assembly Speaker Nicanor Yniguez, who was President Marcos's national campaign chairman during the presidential campaign. The official canvass can, by law, take up to 30 days. The government has promised to complete the count as quickly as possible, but Deputy Premier Jose Rono said on television Sunday night that bad weather was preventing the collection of returns from outlying areas of the central Philippines.

Minister of Justice Estelito Mendoza said Sunday that, in his opinion, the early tabulations of Namfrel and Comelec should cease as soon as the assembly convenes. Continued quick counts, Mendoza said, would ``undercut official constitutional procedures.''

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