For 20 minutes, the governor of Greater Manila kept 4,000 squatters attending a campaign rally enthralled with a stream of promises, threats, dirty jokes - and motherly asides.
"If you vote for our enemies, I will turn my back on you. I won't love you," Imelda R. Marcos threatened. Her audience nodded and smiled.
Then she brought guffaws from the crowd with some remarks about what the refugees from Monday's huge fire here - short of toilet paper - were doing with her campaign posters.
"Are there any enemies here?" Mrs. marcos suddenly asked.
"No," the crowd yelled.
The rally yesterday was just one more in a series of triumphant campaign performances that have shown Imelda Marcos a political equal to her husband, Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos, whom she may succeed some day.
At 49, the one-time beauty queen exudes a stately elegance and charm that brought the shabbily clothed squatters forward to grasp her hands. She has a talent for expressing feelings for people that has mesmerized foreign journalists throughout 10-hour interviews.
The two-story huts along Parcel Street in Manila's Santa Mesa district were jammed together on railroad land after the squatters were forced off a nearby college campus. "We still feel bitter about it," a neighborhood leader told the crowd, "but since it's Mrs. Marcos here today we'll just accept it."
She is campaigning at the head of a slate of candidates from Manila for the interim national assembly. As the governor of greater Manila, she has powers second only to her husband's martial law rule, and she refers to him casually.
"There are 2,000 registered voters in this neighborhood," she said. "I don't want to get back and tell Marcos we have 2,000 people voting for us here, and then later he tells me, 'Look, you only had two people voting for you here.
She explained the ballot to her audience. it handicaps Marcos' supporters, known to be in the majority, who might also want to vote for Marcos' rival Benigno Aquino. Aquino needs some split tickets to have any chance of victory. If a voter does not vote for the full Marcos slate, known by the initials KBL, or Aquino's full slate, Laban, he must laboriously write out the names of each of his choices for the 21 assembly seats from Manila.
"Our ladies auxiliary brigade will watch at the polls and they will know who does not vote for KBL," Marcos told her audience. "If they take more than three seconds in the booth, they're voting for the enemy."
In a speech full of low humor, Marcos brought laughs at one point by comparing the sizes of the noses of various KBL candidates.
"I went to one refugee center and asked what they needed. The ladies said building materials, water, food. But one lady said she needed dentures. Another showed her one tooth and said she could economize on toothpaste."
She has issued a series of reports on progress in the city, each carried under her byline in all the newspapers. She and her husband have made full use of their enormous patronage powers, announcing new pension rights for bus drivers and other civil servants and new clothing allowances for male teachers, in the weeks just before Friday's election.
Outside Manila, some independent candidates for one of the 165 Assembly seats may win against KBL opposition, but none of these Independents appear to be outspoken Marcos critics. In Manila, Marcos has said "no opposition candidate must win in the elections." His wife said, "Our country is in danger" if Aquino, jailed for the last 5 1/2 years, wins a seat. Given President Marcos' firm grasp on the vote-counting machinery, that appears to doom Ajuino unless Marcos changes his mind after seeing the first returns.
On an all-network television broadcast last night answering questions from viewers, President Marcos said Aquino could not be freed even if he won unless the supreme court ruled otherwise. He did not mention his own power to pardon Aquino.
But the television show illustrated the Marcos' growing willingness to allow freer give and take. In a forum totally under his control, he answered questions suggesting he had called the election to please the Americans (he denied it) and recalling charges that he had enriched himself in office (he said all his money was in a private foundation and "my life is an open book").
It is his wife who spends money conspicuously, both for herself and her special hospital and housing projects. It is one of her political weaknesses, but yesterday she ignored it. The woman who flies to New York to shop in the best stores told the poor people of Santa Mesa that "if the opposition offers you money, accept it. Any of their money is from foreigners, and since they have been milking us for more than 50 years, it's time to pay us back."