Philippine opposition presidential candidate Corazon Aquino issued a program today of political measures to "tear down the dictatorship" of President Ferdinand Marcos and warned him not to "frustrate the will of the people" in next month's election.
In her most scathing speech so far in her campaign for the presidency, Aquino described Marcos as a "dying dictator" struggling to hold on to power through an electoral campaign of "brazen lies." She pledged that, if elected, she would "dismantle the dictatorial edifice Mr. Marcos has built" during his 20 years in power and, in its place, "build for our people a genuine democracy."
For the first time, Aquino also said she would jail those guilty of corruption and of illegally investing "hidden wealth" abroad. A congressional subcommittee in Washington is looking into charges that Marcos and his wife, Imelda, have invested at least $250 million in New York real estate as part of a multibillion-dollar export of capital by the Philippine ruling elite. Aquino also has indicated previously that, if elected, she would put Marcos on trial for the 1983 assassination of her husband, Benigno Aquino Jr.
Aquino presented what she called her "political program" at a Rotary Club lunch in the government-owned Manila Hotel. In a 50-minute speech interrupted at least 47 times by applause, she told more than 1,300 persons that she would "break up the concentration of power" in the executive branch of government, restore checks and balances to prevent abuses and make the government accountable to the public. She said the task "will not be easy," because the Marcos government "has been cleverly crafted by an evil genuis" and remains strong.
The speech, which followed a 12-day campaign swing through southern Philippine islands by Aquino and her running mate, Salvador Laurel, provided the clearest indication to date of widespread support for the opposition team in the capital's business community.
Usually cautious businessmen repeatedly and openly expressed conviction that Aquino, frequently called by her nickname, Cory, would be the next president of the Philippines, and Aquino appeared to exude confidence that she could beat Marcos in the Feb. 7 election.
"I have to warn Mr. Marcos," Aquino said. "Don't you dare frustrate the will of the Filipino people, because you will have an angry people on your hands." She added, "I hate to think what an angry people can do if you frustrate their will in the coming election."
Although she did not elaborate, she apparently was referring to concerns among opposition politicians that Marcos' ruling party is gearing up to carry out massive electoral fraud, such as vote-buying or intimidation of voters, as the campaign enters its final two weeks.
Aquino also said she was "generally disgusted" with the way Marcos is campaigning "because, without batting an eye, he tells the most brazen lies." She cited his assertions that she represents Communist rebels, seeks a secession deal with Moslem separatists in the southern Philippines and intends to use controversial decree-making powers to reorganize the government if she is elected.
"This man is desperate," Aquino said. "He will stoop to anything; can we allow an inveterate liar to represent us in the family of nations?" In response, the crowd of well-heeled businessmen and professionals roared, "No."
Outlining what she said were "immediately achievable" political changes that she would initiate upon assuming the presidency, Aquino said she would eliminate Constitutional Amendment No. 6, a provision Marcos pushed through in 1976 to allow the president to legislate by decree. She said she would seek repeal of decrees that allow the president to detain persons without recourse to the courts. If the legislature, currently controlled by Marcos' party, is reluctant to act, she said, she would use Amendment No. 6 herself, but "only as a last resort and only to destroy itself."
Aquino also pledged to "eliminate the social cancer of graft and corruption" and establish an investigative commission to pursue cases of "hidden wealth" illicitly invested abroad.
"What belongs to the people will be given back to the people," she said to thunderous applause, "and those who belong to Muntinglupa [the prison in Manila] will be given suitable quarters in Muntinglupa."
In discussing measures to counter a growing Communist rebellion, Aquino reacted sharply to Marcos' repeated charges that she knows nothing about combating an insurgency.
When Marcos was elected in 1965, she said, "there were 165 insurgents. Today there are more than 16,000 of them getting closer to the palace doors.
"Today, 20 years after he first became president, 13 years after he imposed martial law and suspended the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus, nine years after he acquired the power under Amendment 6, the problem of insurgency is worse than in 1965, worse than in 1972, worse than in 1976," Aquino said. "To his question, therefore, 'What does Cory Aquino know about insurgency?' my first answer is that, with his dismal record, he should be ashamed to ask the question at all.
"It is beyond debate that Mr. Marcos is the most successful recruiter for the insurgency," Aquino said. She added that "he is leaving to us as one of his shameful legacies the difficult task of reversing the drift towards a Communist takeover."
To resolve the problem, she said she was "prepared to seek a political solution to the Communist insurgency before relying on military force," and would respect anyone's right, including a Communist's, to sell his ideas to others peacefully. But she pledged to "use the power of the state to fight any force, whether Communist or not, which will seek to overthrow our democratic government or destroy our cultural heritage, including our belief in God."