Phillipine President Ferdinand Marcos said yesterday that recent demonstrations against his martial law government had been led by subversives and people under the influence of drugs and police would continue to restrain such protests.
In the first press conference for foreign journalists in nine months, Marcos vigorously defended the April 7 election for a National Assembly against charges of fraud. He said his political opponents had engaged in "paying for voters and bribing [poll] watchers" and what few cases of fraud that might be blamed on his people did "not alter results of an election with millions of votes."
Marcos called the press conference after a week in which he and his sides have complained bitterly of one-side foreign press coverage,particularly in The New York Times. After weeks of allowing fairly unrestraining protests during the election, he cracked down on two opposition demonstrations in the past week. He appeared sensitive to the impact the resulting news accounts might have on human rights advocates in the U.S. Congress, which may have to decide later this year on increasing compensation for use of Philippine bases. At the press conference he smiled and answered questions for 90 minutes, followed by another half-hour chat over cookies with several of the approximately 30 journalists present.
He emphasized what he said was his disappointment at violent acts reported to him from a April 6 "noise barrage" called by the opposition at the end of the election campaign.
"We permitted the demonstration. We kept the police. . . off the streets and look what happened," Marcos said. "They dented several vehicles carrying [pro-Marcos] stickers, they forced people to give the [opposition's clenched fist] sign. One girls riding on an [opposition] jeep was killed, I understand."
He said some of the people arrested for the April 6 protest "were apparently drugged or high on drugs" and he made the same statement about some of nearly 600 people arrested in a peaceful protest March Sunday. An opposition spokesman said last night he knew of no such use by demonstrators.
After experimenting with ncurbs on the police in the sixth year of martial law, Marcos said he felt that "I should be more prudent and cautious in dismantling the forces that enforce law."
Marcos briefly repeated, in response to a question, what he said were police reports that foreign journalists "were actively guiding" Sunday's march. He said he was studying pictures of the demonstration, but said in response to another question that he was not criticizing reporters who were simply interviewing marchers.
His generally conciliatory attitude towards the foreign journalists present was not shared by some of his aides, however. Secretary of National Defense Juan Ponce Enrile said in an audible whisper, "That's an insult, by God," when one American journalist began to ask Marcos if he planned to issue a statement of his net worth. Marcos told the questioner, who had referred to rumors of his enriching himself in office, that "I will not do because an American tells me not to do so" and said he felt the foreign press "had no business putting a president under indictment."
A Marcos aide sitting next to Philippine first lady Imelda R. Marcos in the back of the dining hall at Malacanang Palace said, "You liar" when another American reported began to ask about alleged voting frauds.
"I am willing to say that some people should be punished, but to go from there and say the whole election is a fraud is going too far," Marcos said. The commission on elections dis-allowed several opposition protests yesterday, including charges that in some precincts the number of votes had exceeded the number of registered voters.
Marcos, who ordered the release Tuesday of all eight of the nearly 600 marchers arrested Sunday, said the remaining eight leaders, including four assembly candidates, would soon have a chance to post bail once their cases are transfered to civil courts.During martial law, some disenters have been held in military custody for months or years without trail. Government officials said they expected most marchers would be released today after release forms were completed.
Marcos telephone a military officer in charge of the prisoners ordered the immediate release of a marcher with leukemia, whose name had been given him by a reporter.
The president said police were still looking for one opposition candidate, attorney Charito Planas, for allegedly keeping 30 Communist guerrillas in her house. He said three other leftist opposition candidates, reportedly in hiding, but no arrest warrants out against them. Nevertheless, he scored the opposition group, know by its acronyumn LABAN (Fight), for bringing "in all those. . . [Communist]subversives. The subversives took over the LABAN."
Marcos acknowledged that he had noticed the growing strength of the opposition vote in some areas. Still incomplete official returns in Manila showed the opposition led by jailed former senator Benigno Aquino taking 40 percent of the vote, although losing all seats in the assembly from the city because ballotind. This was a marked increse from 10 percent opposition vote registered in a December martial law referendum.
Marcos said he wanted to find out if "the vote is against me, against national policies, or is it a vote against local excutives, the harshness of the military and the police, or is it a vote against the [pro-Marcos] candidates themselves?"
Furure protest marches, he said, would be helted if they presented any threat of violence, "but if they just want to march to church to pray for my soul, that is probably all right."