Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos today concluded a two-month campaign for reelection by warning his opponents that they will "disappear" if they encourage violence after Friday's election and by threatening to meet any such protests with military force.
"The opposition is warning that a civil war will break out if they lose," Marcos told a final campaign rally that appeared to draw less than one-third of the crowd, estimated between hundreds of thousands to 1.5 million, that turned out yesterday for opposition candidate Corazon Aquino. "I say to them, I don't even think about it. The government of the Philippines is not defenseless. We prefer reconciliation, but if you prefer violence we can handle it. If you insist on using violence, then violence it is. And we will show you we can handle anything you can dish out."
Philippine election law specifies that campaigning must end one full day before the election. Polls are scheduled to open at 7 a.m. Friday and close by 3 p.m. in 90,000 voting places.
The 68-year-old president, who is seeking a "new mandate" after 20 years in power, made the statements amid warnings from his opponents, the Roman Catholic Church and an independent poll-watching group that widely anticipated election fraud by his ruling party would have dangerous consequences.
In a news conference, the archbishop of Manila and leader of the Philippines' powerful Roman Catholic Church, Cardinal Jaime Sin, warned of "dire consequences" if the election is marred by fraud. "The election will be clean, Mr. President -- if you want it to be clean," he said. He said the church was considering several options, including civil disobedience, if the election is stolen by Marcos' political machine.
"Ordinarily I would welcome" an election, Sin said. "Instead, I view it with fear and trembling."
"Do not cheat the people on Friday," opposition candidate Aquino warned Marcos in a statement issued by her press office. "Already there are reports of the old tricks of intimidation and fraud that have protected him for so long in the corrupt luxury of his palace. Don't, Mr. Marcos. Because this time you will not get away with it."
The threatening new tone of the campaign rhetoric came as each side accused the other of instigating violence against its supporters. Marcos charged in his closing campaign speech that opponents fired at a bus carrying followers to his rally, wounding a driver, and stoned at least two others.
Aquino's headquarters reported that her sister-in-law and press aide, Lupita Aquino Kashiwahara, two of her children and a driver were roughed up and threatened at gunpoint by Philippine Constabulary troops in Aquino's home province of Tarlac today.
The headquarters said eight soldiers at a checkpoint near Aquino's hometown of Concepcion aimed their rifles at Kashiwahara when she tried to photograph them. It said the soldiers tried to drag Kashiwahara's son and daughter out of their car and throttled the driver.
The soldiers also smashed the camera of an NBC television news team that filmed the incident.
Some tension between the Marcos and Aquino camps was evident before today's rally of Marcos' ruling New Society Movement party at the Rizal Park by Manila Bay.
Aquino supporters lining the main boulevard to the park jeered at buses carrying rally participants and flashed the "L" sign (for Laban, or Fight) with thumb and forefinger or waved the opposition's yellow banners. Some waved banknotes at those being bused to the rally, accusing them of being paid to attend.
While most of the taunting appeared to be relatively good-natured, the government reported that a bus driver was hit by an "air-gun bullet" and that rifle shots were fired over another bus. It said one stoning incident occurred in front of the U.S. Embassy near the rally site.
The relatively small turnout appeared to raise questions about the vaunted political machine of Marcos' ruling party, which laid on hundreds of buses and other vehicles and evidently spent millions of pesos to bring in the crowds.
Many people streamed away from the park after participating in the rally briefly, and an exodus started when it began to rain heavily upon Marcos' arrival. By the time he began to speak, about 13,000 people remained, although others returned from their buses later when the downpour let up.
The government-run television claimed that "more than 1 million" people had attended the rally and that "the sky cleared as soon as the president spoke."
Many in the crowd wore Marcos T-shirts and other paraphernalia handed out free to encourage participation.
Several interviewed at random said they had been paid to participate, and some said they were voting for Aquino. A group of women wearing Marcos hats and other gear cheerfully showed reporters Aquino buttons concealed under their jackets.
"I'm for Cory," said one participant, Gregorio Enquilo, in reply to a question about his choice for president. Asked why he was attending the rally, Enquilo, a 59-year-old salesman wearing a Marcos T-shirt and carrying a Marcos banner, replied, "I need the money." He said he had been promised 30 pesos, about $1.66, by a local New Society Movement official for attending. Asked why he supported Aquino, he said, "Marcos has been in power too long. Why not give someone else a chance?"
As Enquilo was speaking, half a dozen youths wearing red shirts suddenly turned up to eavesdrop. One told a reporter to "speak Tagalog," the local language, instead of English.
Another rally participant said he would vote for Marcos "because he helps a lot." He said he was being paid 200 pesos ($11) to attend.
A Marcos supporter who said he came voluntarily, Rufino Gamad, 31, a government-employed social worker, said he would vote for the president because "his program for the poor is very impressive."
Those who stayed at the rally, which featured singing and dancing by pop stars and actresses, heard Marcos deliver one of the toughest speeches of the campaign.
After reading police reports of the shooting and stoning incidents, Marcos accused the opposition of "sowing an atmosphere of hate, anger and revolution." He warned that "if we make the wrong choice for president and vice president, there will be bloody years to come."
Addressing his opponents, he said, "You are like children with small brains, because you don't know the strength of the government. I say to you, you will disappear. If you go on with your plan to hurt our friends, we will hunt you down and arrest you."
Earlier, Cardinal Sin told a news conference that civil disobedience was being considered as a possible response if the election is marred by massive fraud.
"It will mean that people will not obey the laws of the country and there will be confusion," Sin said. "It is hard to decide on this." He said the country's bishops would meet within a week after the election and decide what, if any, action was needed.
"Violence is not the solution," Sin said. "It will only increase our problems. The poor will be miserable, and the rich will simply get on airplanes and leave the country."