The mayor's friends had disappeared with the ballots shortly before I arrived at Barrio Poblacion, and no one was too happy to see me.

"Who are you, sir?" asked a short, grey-haired man, another ally of the mayor, as I tried to get the story from the single antigovernment poll-watcher present. "You're an alien. You can't interfere here."

It was a hot and dusty afternoon yesterday as the Barrio or ward, Makato, a city in Manila's suburbs, added its own little drama to the Philippines first election in more than six years. The rickety, one-story elementary school on a hill amid a rocky playground. A big power plant spouted smoke below, near the muddy brown waters of the Pasig River.

Nancy Asperilla, 32, an executive secretary in the nearby highrise office district where the mayor holds sway, had seen the men come. They took all the opposition ballots out of the box for precinct 8-1. They told the teachers [who supervise voting] that they wished to arrange them. Then they were gone, and so were all the anti-Marcos ballots."

One of the men, she said, was a councillor ventura, a member of the Makati city council and a friend of Makati's mayor, Nemesia Yabut, Yabut is a bear of a man often accused of strong-arm tactics in defending President Ferdinand Marcos from critics. He runs the high-rise business district called Makati, where many new hotels and offices have sprouted under material law.

Asperilla, as she told her story, attracted a crowd. A constabulary officer was sent to talk to me. He looked at my press pass and asked that we move our conversation farther away from the voting booths.

I slipped past him to ask the teacher supervisor for precinct 8-1 if someone had taken some of her ballots. "I cannot answer your question," she said.

Opposition leaders had reported another scandal farther down the road in Pateros. Their poll-watchers had been kicked out of the voting centers, they said, yet a quick drive to Pateros, a green little town of low trees, narrow streets, old cars and a huge cock fighting pit, revealed a different story.

"We walked out of the voting center," said an opposition poll-watcher." "We protested their not letting us see if one ballot box was empty when voting started this morning. They said they lost the key."

The polls had closed, the box was stuffed full, and everyone was still waiting for a carpenter to saw off the

Back to Barrio Poblacion, it was now dark but still hot, and as if by magic, the missing ballots had returned. Asperilla had found them hidden behind a cabinet and persuaded the teachers to replace them in the ballot box.

It wasn't enough to win for the opposition, whose leader, political prisoner Benigno Aquino was in his room at Ft. Bonifacio just a few minutes down the road. The large, heavy brown tote sheets occasionally fell off the classroom walls but the teachers, mostly small, polite women with serious looks on their faces, kept up their count.

The pro-Marcos slate had beaten its opponents in percinct 8-1 by a margin of more than 2 to 1. The lowest vote-getter of the 21-member pro-Marcos slate had 169 votes. Aquino had only 84. Someone pointed out to the teachers that a mistake in their arithmetic had given Manila Governor Imelda Marcos 14 extra votes, but the president's wife doesn't really need them.