Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos said today he looked forward to U.S.-style television debates with opposition leader Corazon Aquino if she emerged as the opposition's challenger for the presidency in a special election scheduled for Feb. 7.
Aquino, 52, widow of slain opposition leader Benigno Aquino Jr., formally declared her candidacy this week and, in an interview published here today, said she would be willing to face Marcos in a televised debate.
In a statement from the presidential palace, Marcos was quoted as saying: "My conversations with ladies have always been pleasant, and I don't think this will be different from others. I presume I will survive this encounter."
Aquino and the other main opposition contender, former senator Salvador Laurel, said they will announce on Sunday whether they will run on a joint ticket in the election.
Laurel, 57, who had seemed adamant on running for the top spot, has been softening that stance during the past week. Asked if the opposition could be united, he said: "I don't think the opposition can afford the luxury of disunity at this point. We must join forces."
Laurel described Aquino as "definitely a symbol of the opposition cause for which her husband died."
In a related development, the Philippine Supreme Court today said it would hold hearings on Dec. 17 on petitions challenging the legality of a Cabinet act authorizing the election. Some opposition legislators and several leading lawyers have said an early election would be unconstitutional unless Marcos resigns his office before running. Marcos has said that he would resign after the winner has been declared and sworn in.
Marcos, whose term does not expire until 1987, called for the early election last month amid U.S. criticism of his handling of a growing Communist insurgency and economic troubles.
Meanwhile, Gen. Fabian Ver went to the U.S. naval base at Subic Bay to attend a mutual defense board meeting. Ver is cochairman of the board. It was his first meeting with the Americans since he was placed on leave by Marcos more than a year ago. That followed charges of his involvement in Benigno Aquino's assassination. Ver and the 25 other defendants were acquitted on Monday, and he was reinstated as armed forces chief of staff.
The mutual defense board was created in 1958 to assist the Philippines and the United States in achieving the objectives of a mutual defense treaty, military bases agreement and military assistance agreement.