Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos said yesterday he has cancelled an order allowing "free debate and discussion of issues," and indicated that some of his political opponents would be charged with sedition for the way they campaigned in last week's National Assembly election.
The remarks came in an official report of a Cabinet session yesterday during which Foreign Secretary Carlos Romulo accused foreign journalists here of "taking an active part" in planning an opposition protest march Sunday.
Manila constabulary officers stopped the march and arrested about 600 people on sedition charges, the first time in several months that such action against peaceful protest had been taken in this former U.S. colony. Police and a Marcos spokesman said yesterday that they did not know when the marchers, including four candidates who won about a third of the vote in Friday's election, would be released.
A return to the repression of the early days of Marcos' martial law rule could jeopardize the chances of obtaining U.S. approval for a new and more lucrative military bases agreement. Negotiations on a new pact have been under way for some time, but a final agreement likely would face close scrutiny in Congress, where questions have been raised about the Marcos governments' human rights record.
Yesterday's Cabinet report emphasized Marcos' determination to take "preventive and preemptive" action against any open dissent from martial law and to end the relaxed political atmosphere allowed during the assembly campaign. Marcos' chief political opponent, former senator Benigno Aquino Jr., issued a statement from prison yesterday saying that because of the campaign people had permanently overcome "their collective fear that has stood guard over the locked doors of freedom."
Marcos had called the election, which sent almost all the pro-Marcos candidates to the new assembly, in part to counter unfavorable publicity abroad about martial law restraints on traditional Philippine democracy. But Marcos and his aides appeared displeased by the foreign news coverage given to opposition complaints of ballot box stuffing and to Sunday's march.
Official election returns trickling in showed the pro-Marcos slate in Manila maintaining a 2 to 1 lead over the opposition. In outlying provinces, pro-Marcos candidates seemed to be accusing each other of the same kind of vote fraud the opposition has charged in Manila.
Yesterday, the presidential press office handed reporters copies of a news account alleging tht one pro-Marcos candidate in Bicol had destroyed ballots marked for presidential press secretary Francisco Tatad in a struggle over political leadership of the region.
Romulo said the vote fraud charges and the march had been done "for the benefit and consumption of the foreign correspondents" here to cover the election. He said foreign journalists had joined a Sunday meeting to plan the march and "were there not merely as correspondents covering an event, but in fact were contributing comments and suggestions taking an active part in the discussions."
The government's public information department directed all foreign journalists to wear their press passes prominently because police photographing Sunday's march had trouble "distinguishing the legitimate members of the press from the foreign subversives."#TSeveral Amrican, British, Australian and Japanese reporters interviewed march leaders before and during Sunday's march, but organizerd said no journalists were present during the Saturday night meeting to plan the event.
The Cabinet report said the marchers were also being investigated in connection with a "violent and riotous noise barrage" organized by the opposition on election eve.
Marcos had said earlier that a woman died as a result of demonstration Thursday, but the Cabinet report mentioned no deaths and police reached yesterday could not confirm the report.
The four candidates jailed Sunday are former Senator Francisco Rodrigo, attorney Teofisto Guingona, law professor Aquilino Pimentel Jr. and businessman Ernesto Rondon. They, along with opposition campaign manager and former senator Lorenzo Tanada, Rodrigo's son King, opposition attorney Joker Arroyo and Guingona's wife Ruth, were confined yesterday at the Bicutan Rehabilitation Center. Arroyo's wife said each of the eight prisoners was alone in a padlocked room without a toilet or running water.
The other 600 or so marchers who were arrested, mostly young opposition campaign workers, were reportedly being held at Ft. Bonifacio army headquarters Aquino, arrested in 1972 on the first day of martial law on subversion and murder charges, is held in the maximum security section of the huge army base. Several Roman Catholic nuns who had insisted on being arrested with other marchers Sunday were released on Marco's orders, the Cabinet report said.
"It is the sense of the Cabinet that the incipient anarchy and subversive elections for which attended the recent elections for the interim Batasang Pambansa [National Assembly] was reminiscent of 1972, and that unless immediate steps are taken, this could gain momentum as a threat to the existence of the New Society," the reported said. "The president said that some disorder and confusion was only to be expected in the elections, considering the personalities involved, notably those of the opposition group . . .'However, I did not expect them and some of their supporters to go to extremes,' the president said."
The report said several small pill box bombs and placards "bearing seditious messages such as 'Revolution, the Answer to Martial Law' were seized from marchers."
"The policy of restraint that the authorities had followed during the election campaign, to allow free campaigning and free debate and discussion of issues, has now been lifted," the report said Marcos told the Cabinet.
"During the campaign, he recalled, even patently seditious speeches and utterances and illegal assemblies had been allowed to give full play to democratic elections. He said this tolerance was gravely abused by the opposition . . . [and that] it was clear that the subversives have shifted their strategy back to . . . agitation and propaganda."
Nonetheless, Marcos said, it was not necessary yet to restore the night time curfew of the early martial law period, despite what he said were many appeals for him to do so.