Emotions run high as Philippine parliament prepares to count votes
The focus of attention in the Philippine presidential election has now shifted to the National Assembly, where the government appears set on finishing the vote count -- and proclaiming President Ferdinand Marcos the victor -- as quickly as possible. The assembly resumed session Monday. Its count, which is the only legally binding tally, will probably begin this afternoon after being delayed yesterday, when Assembly members spent about four hours discussing procedure.
The proclamation of a winner is expected to fuel rather than defuse the anger that is lingering after Friday's election. The opposition, led by Corazon Aquino, seems to be waiting for the end of vote-counting before launching the mass demonstrations it has promised.
Two government ministers interviewed at the Assembly Monday night spoke of the need to finish the count as quickly as possible to defuse tension following the election. Both men, Labor Minister Blas Ople and Deputy Justice Minister Manuel Garcia, said they expected the vote tally to be completed by late this week or early next. Their party, Mr. Marcos's New Society Movement, controls an overwhelming majority of the seats in the National Assembly.
Tension and emotionalism were very visible at the Assembly yesterday. The visitors' gallery, normally sparsely filled, was overflowing. Several thousand people waited outside, listening to the proceedings, which were being relayed by a sound truck, or holding impromptu demonstrations in favor of opposition candidate Mrs. Aquino.
Government supporters -- mostly from the Barangay Youth Organization headed by Assemblywoman Imee Marcos-Manotoc, the President's daughter -- had been trucked in. The same organization had been involved in anti-United States demonstrations Monday morning, as an official US election observer team led by Sen. Richard Lugar (R) of Indiana left for home.
Demonstrators claiming to be members of a radical national organization picketed the building, protesting US interference in the election. But their grasp of political rhetoric was shaky, and many were unable to recall the name of their nationalist organization.
One told this reporter that they were, in fact, Barangay youth from a nearby squatter area.
Crowds outside the National Assembly cheered opposition assemblymen and booed government representatives as they left Monday evening. Many demonstrators then settled down for what they said would be an all-night vigil.
The opposition supporters were convinced that their candidate would win if the election were clean. Some opposition leaders, however, suspect that Aquino will emerge the statistical loser in the vote counts. They say that electoral fraud -- particularly the exclusion of voters and the switching of electoral returns -- has already robbed them of victory.
Tension was heightened in Manila Monday evening wheb two Aquino supporters were shot during a motorcade through the business district of Makati. One man was killed and a woman injured, when unidentified gunmen fired on the truck that Aquino supporters had been using as a stage for a prayer rally. The motorcade was heading for the National Assembly. Sources in the Aquino camp say that her security has been considerably strengthened in the last few days.
The elections, and apprehension about what comes next, are still the main topic of discussion in Manila. Disenchantment with the Marcos government seems to have spread widely.
One senior official of a government ministry Monday began spontaneously to talk about his feelings after the polls. He had never before given the impression of being anything other than a faithful Marcos supporter.
``Most people in my ministry share the perception that the election was fraudulent,'' the official said. ``And now, even if Marcos is proclaimed the winner, that will not solve the problem. He's lost the support of well over half the population.''
The official is soon leaving for a long overseas trip.
``I'm glad I'm going,'' he said. ``It's not that I'm scared, it's just that it doesn't seem worthwhile staying here any more. I've had it up to here,'' he added, pointing to his throat.
Other groups, including the armed forces reform group, have also expressed dissatisfaction with the conduct of the elections and say they may join the protests.
The group, commonly called ``RAM'' (for ``Reform the Armed Forces Movement''), quietly did some of its own monitoring on election day.
RAM members, many of them officers, say that senior commanders were actively involved in dubious activities designed to ensure a government win.
One of the main factors in the apparent Marcos victory, a reformist officer said today, was ``naked violence.''