President Ferdinand Marcos moved closer today to being named the winner in last week's disputed election, as the Philippine National Assembly, which his ruling party controls by a two-thirds majority, began its official tally showing Marcos leading opposition candidate Corazon Aquino.
With close to half the vote counted, Marcos was ahead by 53 to 46 percent. The assembly is expected to announce a Marcos victory as early as Friday.
As the assembly moved toward its expected announcement, Aquino called on Marcos to step down, scrap the official figures from last Friday's election, and let people select a president through a "wider political exercise." She did not elaborate, but opposition sources indicated that this would be based on rallies and street demonstrations modeled after those of her campaign.
In recent days, as a Marcos victory in the assembly has become increasingly likely, she has been meeting with other opposition leaders to map her postelection strategy. Her campaign organization announced today that she will host a large rally in a park on Manila Bay on Sunday and will present to the crowd a "program of nonviolent protest."
Her proposal for "a wider political exercise" came as bishops of the country's powerful Roman Catholic Church met to debate whether the church should support civil disobedience in any street campaign and whether the church should reject Marcos' claim to victory.
Marcos made no immediate response to Aquino, but there seemed virtually no chance he would take her proposal seriously. One government aide close to him commented: "She's flipped."
Aquino indicated that it is too late to try to untangle the fraud that her supporters and international observers have said marred the election. She said the fraud has distorted what was a landslide in her favor into the Marcos victory that government figures now show.
Rather than hold another election, she said in a statement read by a campaign spokesman, the Philippines should move to some other form of politics that will respond "to the real will of the people."
Aquino suggested that this is necessary to avert "the risk of further political violence in our nation." The opposition has said people may react angrily in the streets if they think Marcos has stolen the election.
After seven hours of tabulating tally sheets from the archipelago's 74 provinces and more than 60 cities, the official tally of the National Assembly showed Marcos leading 6.4 million to 5.58 million, or about 53 percent to 46 percent with about 46 percent of the votes tallied.
The citizens' poll-watching group known as Namfrel continued to show Aquino ahead in its partial count. But it announced today it would not include in its tally figures from the approximately 25 percent of the precincts where it did not have observers.
Namfrel contends it cannot vouch for the validity of those figures, which would probably result in its count going in favor of Marcos. In a statement today, it said it was willing to sit down with the government and an independent auditor to try to find ways to complete the count.
Both Marcos and Aquino declared victory within hours of the close of voting. Aquino has said she will lead daily, nonviolent demonstrations if the National Assembly does not proclaim her the winner.
Today, Catholic bishops met for a closed-door meeting to debate whether the church, which has given Aquino unofficial backing, should come out in favor of civil disobedience in any street campaign that emerges. They were expected to reach a decision in favor of doing so Friday morning, with the results to go into a pastoral letter that would be read at church services. They were also weighing a proposal to reject Marcos' claim to reelection.
In her statement today, Aquino said the opportunity for a "quick, honest and full vote count" had passed. "Our country was inevitably embarked on a prolonged political crisis," she said. The National Assembly, which is dominated by Marcos' New Society Movement, was not capable of reversing the fraud and determining her true vote figures, she suggested.
"The current chasm between the count and the expression of the people's will at the ballot box last week will probably at this stage only be resolved by a wider political exercise that enables democracy to be heard," she said.
Aquino specified in her statement that in order to "convince a doubting nation," it would be necessary for Marcos to leave the presidential palace, "whatever the personal inconvenience."