Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos indicated strongly tonight that he would not allow his leadign political opponent, Benigno Aquino, to be executed despite a death sentence imposed on the former senator by a military tribunal.
Asked during an interview in Malacanang Palace about statements by political observers here that he would prevent the execution, Marcos said: I guess they know me as much as I know myself. They are probably correct, but you see I can't say anything other than that."
News ofthe sudden Nov. 25 verdict of a firing squad for Aquino, a leading candidate for president before Marcos declared martial law five years ago, produced front page headlines around the world and an unusual expression of concern from a U.S. State Department spokesman.
After Aquino complained that he had been kept from making a last statement to the tribunal, Marcos ordered the military hearing reopened. Until tonight, Marcos had declined to say what he might do about the sentence on the ground that other court appeals had to come first.
Marcos indicated that he was bothered by the bad image the Aquino case and other alleged human rights here had a given the Philippines and was planning a public information campaign in the United States to counteract that image. "We are concerned that the State Department as well as the American people might not be getting the proper informtion on what has been happening in the Philippines on human rights.
"Marcos insisted tonight that he suspected President Carter's human right tonight that he supported President Carter's human rights policy and did not condone whatever isolated instances or torture or illegal arrest might have occurred under the martial law he imposed in 1972. Asked ahout a recent unprecedenited U.S. abstention durin an Asian Development Bank vote on a loan for the Philippines because of concern over human rights. Marcos said he thought there would have been no abstention if the U.S. officials had been fully informed about the situaion.
The government is known to have recently hired Doremus, a New York public relations company. Imelda Marcos, governor of greater Manila and the president's wife. Met with executives of major American news organizations, including Newsweek, The Associated Press and the New York Times, during a recent trip to New Zealand.
The death sentence for Aquino, brought on charged of murder, subversion and illegal possessions of arms, was also on Communist guerrilla leader Bernabe Buscayno and former national police officer turned guerrilla Victor Corpuz. The verdict must be reviewed by military appeals panels and then the Supreme Court before it can go to Marcos for a final decision on pardon or commutation.
Marcos supporters argued after the sentence was announced that killing off opponents was not Marcos' style and that only one convicted criminal, a drug trafficker, had been executed since martial law was declared. Marcos's opponents said he would prohibit the execution because he did not want Aquino, who has been in prison since the first day of martial law, to become a greater martyr than he is already.
Many lawyers here say the evidence against Aquino is weak and his imprisonment little more than an attempt to keep the most charismatic of Marcos's opponents out of circulation. Aquino is charged with supplying Communists with arms and suggesting that Buscayno, also known as Commander Dante, kill a certain village captain in Aquino's native Tarlac Province.
The village leader was murdered, but he was a political supporter of Aquino's and his death in 1967 was not connected with the senator until after martial law was imposed five years later. The key witness is another Communist guerrilla implicated in the alleged murder plot himself.
As his case dragged on over five years, Aquino refused to acknowledge the military's right to try him and refused to defend himself. But Monday, during the first session of the reopened hearing, he made an impassioned statement that included a denial that he had every given arms to a Communist leader as alleged.
"You gave Mr. Marcos the legal excuse to murder me," Aquino told the tribunal. "The blood will be on his hands but you will have provided the vehicle."