President Ferdinand E. Marcos' threat to arrest businessmen who demonstrate against him seems to have chilled protests in the financial district, although top business leaders profess to be unworried.
Since the president's stern warning Sunday, the financial center of Makati has been generally quiet, in contrast to the four days of raucous protests in the previous two weeks when thousands of office workers called on Marcos to resign.
In one of his toughest addresses, Marcos went on television Sunday to warn businessmen who had joined in that they would be tracked down and arrested.
"Yes, a lot of people are scared," one executive in Makati said today.
Through telephone calls from office to office, the word was spread today that a lunch-time demonstration would take place in the financial district, a wide street bordered by tall office buildings. No one showed up to start a rally, although many passing in cars honked their horns in an attempt to launch a "noise barrage."
This afternoon, rumors spread feverishly through the district that government agents were showing up in some offices with photographs of persons sought for demonstrating last week.
No one could be found who had actually seen the agents. But workers in one building were hastily getting rid of copies of anti-Marcos manifestos that had circulated widely for two weeks.
A new pamphlet being passed around called on office personnel to demonstrate on Friday in memory of Benigno S. Aquino Jr., the one-time Marcos rival whose assassination on Aug. 21 touched off several large demonstrations seeking the president's resignation.
But it calls only for sympathizers to wear yellow shirts, ties, blouses and pants suits that day and to make noise from their offices. Yellow is the color adopted as symbolic of support for Aquino. The pamphlet did not call upon the workers to pour into the streets, where police used tear gas last week against several thousand.
The involvement of Makati business offices was at first viewed as important because it showed growing hostility to Marcos among the middle class.
Few if any top executives of Manila corporations were directly involved in the protests, judging from interviews with them this week. Many are extremely critical of Marcos privately but none of those interviewed said he believed demonstrations would achieve the goal of forcing him to resign.
Enrique Zobel, one of whose enterprises had been specifically cited by Marcos as harboring demonstrators, said publicly that he was not worried. "I'm afraid of nobody because my conscience is clear," he said at a business club meeting.
Zobel retired today as chief executive officer of the Ayala Corporation, but a spokeswoman said it was a long-planned move that had nothing to do with Marcos' threat Sunday that included the Ayala Foundation, another enterprise he headed.
Another corporation president, who requested anonymity, said he considers protests futile because they will not force Marcos to quit. "The only way he will come out of the presidential palace is to be carried out in a box," he added.
He is placing his hopes of restraining the president on a proposed "council of national reconciliation" being promoted by Cardinal Jaime Sin, the archbishop of Manila. The executive said the church, businessmen, government technocrats and some professionals in the military could combine to exert organized pressure on Marcos through what he called "this council of elders."
Marcos' television appearances have become almost daily occurrences in the past week. Today, he assured listeners that government was proceeding normally, despite what he called the efforts of some to "create a revolutionary atmosphere."