Wile rumors about the Philippines appeared, collided and vanished, President Reagan had the nation's governors in for dinner last night at the White House. Outside, in Lafayette Park, a small but vocal band of anti-Marcos demonstrators cried, "No asylum for Marcos!"
Inside the Blue Room, where Reagan held court with nearly 40 of the nation's governors in town for their winter meeting, Guam's Gov. Ricardo Bordallo, a Democrat, said Guam would take Marcos if it came to that.
Throughout the day rumors that Marcos had fled or would flee, possibly to Guam, were abundant. Bordallo said he had heard those rumors. "That's one I heard that's coming from the Church radio in Manila. I think they're psyching each other out, because there's nothing really substantial."
Bordallo said he wouldn't oppose Marcos taking refuge in Guam. "He comes like any other person that's aligned with our country," he said.
"I still say that Mr. Marcos is an ally of our country. He's not an enemy," Bordallo continued. Asked if Marcos would be unpopular there, he said, "Oh, no. He has quite a lot of followers in Guam. About 20 percent of our population is Filipino."
Across the room, the president was facing reporters on whether he would ask for Marcos' resignation. "I have no comments on that," he said.
Well then, he was asked, would he be calling Marcos? "We have no plans to do anything like that -- maybe communicate through our ambassador there," said Reagan, who then saw impressionist Rich Little hovering nearby and tossed off, "Ask him."
Little couldn't have been more indifferent. "I don't imitate him, so I really am not interested," he said.
At the entrance to the Blue Room, Vice President Bush watched the approach of a group of reporters. Suddenly, he turned the usual tables and asked if they thought Marcos should resign.
"I really can't comment on that," said NBC correspondent William Groody.
"I can't either," said Bush, and walked off smiling.
A little later, he said he thought the president is being "properly prudent. He's handling it exactly right. Events control a lot of it. We're properly positioned for the U.S., we're not dictators of somebody else's affairs and yet we stand up for what we believe. The president has achieved that balance."
The governors, for the most part, were more comfortable talking about Gramm-Rudman-Hollings and education budgets. The few who didn't sidestep the subject of the hour seemed to support Reagan's threatened cutoff of military aid to the Pacific nation.
Vermont Gov. Madeleine Kunin said she had been following the events on television and "things are happening very fast." She felt military aid should be cut off but laughed when asked if Vermont, which has taken in other exiles such as Russian author Alexander Solzhenitsyn, would welcome Marcos. She was a little startled at first, but then rose to the bait.
"It's too cold for him there," she said, with a laugh.
Like several other governors who said they didn't know enough about the subject to venture an opinion, Hawaii's Gov. George Ariyoshi said he thought the aid decision was up to the president.
"I don't want to get involved in national issues," he said.
But, he admitted, the situation in the Philippines is of concern to a large number of his constituents. "We have many people of Philippine extraction living in our state," he said. "I think the sentiment for the president [Marcos] has been very strong," because many Hawaiians originally came from the same region as Marcos.
"There is that traditional tie but I am not able to gauge the feeling now," Ariyoshi said.
George Sinner of North Dakota said, "Obviously we have vast interest in the Philippines," and added he supported an aid cutoff, saying he was glad the president "finally listened to [Secretary of State] George Shultz."
Bob Graham, governor of Florida and now challenging Sen. Paula Hawkins (R-Fla.) for her Senate seat, proved the energetic campaigner never ignores an opportunity to give a speech complete with inspirational fervor.
"I think the time has come for the U.S. to decide its future rests in the hands of those committed to the Democratic values we as Americans support," he said.
But should Marcos express interest in relocating to Florida . . . "There are other places in the world I would trust he would find more hospitable," said Graham.
Rich Little, who was there to entertain, was asked if he "did Marcos" and the impressionist said, "I'm imitating a governor tonight. I don't want those problems."
The 20 or so protesters outside, who disappeared by the time the toasts were given, said they just gathered after hearing rumors -- later proved false -- that Marcos had fled the Philippines.
"He's in Guam, that's the rumor," said Chip Fay, a former Peace Corps volunteer who spent four years in the Philippines.
Charito Planas, who said she was a former associate of opposition leader Corazon Aquino and had been imprisoned for 14 months by the government, insisted it was important for Americans to see the irony in the fact that two high-level army officers who denounced Marcos "were partners in crime with Marcos and now they are heroes."
Inside, as the toasts began, the talk turned from the informal discussion of the Philippines to federalism and governors who might, as Reagan put it, take the opportunity to "reflect, 'I could be happy here.' "
The president kept it light, beginning with a story he attributed to Winston Churchill.
"The three hardest things a man can be asked to do are climb a wall that's leaning towards him, kiss a woman leaning away from him and make a good after-dinner speech," he said. He then claimed he would overcome this problem by doing "my imitation of Rich Little's imitation of me."
"Well . . .," Reagan began, sounding remarkably like Ronald Reagan.
Tennessee Gov. Lamar Alexander, chairman of the National Governors' Association, did not attempt to imitate anyone, but did enthuse, "A governor's day is just filled with special moments." He then thanked Reagan, champion of federalism, "for helping to make our jobs the best jobs in America, except for yours."
In addition to the governors, guests included Treasury Secretary James Baker, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Samuel Pierce and Interior Secretary Donald Hodel. Some of the celebrity no-shows were New York Gov. Mario Cuomo, California Gov. George Deukmejian and Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards.
Those who did come, including Nebraska's Gov. Robert Kerrey, dined on Supreme of Chicken White House and apricot souffle'. Kerrey's date for the evening was Julie McCarthy of Washington, who said she was in commercial real estate. Kerrey didn't seem eager to talk with reporters, who were anxious to know where his frequent date, actress Debra Winger, was.
(The excitement didn't end with the dinner. At 11:27 p.m., a fire alarm in the Hyatt Regency Hotel, where the governors were staying, sent guests scurrying to the lobby. It was a false alarm.)
Then it was on to the entertainment, where Rich Little surprised everyone by doing . . . Ronald Reagan.
"Well . . ., " he said many times.
Imitating Reagan at a press conference, Little answered the question, "How do you keep your cheeks so red?"
"I jog with my pants down," said Little-Reagan.
And so on.
"My biggest regret is he isn't going to run again," Little told the audience after finishing his act. "I could do him forever. Now I'll have to learn George Bush."
Or, as Reagan quipped, "Next time, imitate Nancy."
Little did not try.