Reformist officers in the Armed Forces of the Philippines, concerned about the controversial outcome of the Feb. 7 presidential election, plan to investigate charges of widespread electoral fraud and submit the results to the public.
The officers also said they are concerned about the prospect of disturbances after the proclamation of President Ferdinand Marcos by the National Assembly as the winner over challenger Corazon Aquino. They indicated that the Marcos government may not be able to count on troops to obey if ordered to crush mass demonstrations being organized by the Aquino camp, but they ruled out any prospect of a reformist military coup.
The officers said they had personal knowledge of electoral irregularities and indicated they were coming under pressure from the government because of the election. They cited government efforts to link them with a controversial walkout by computer operators from a government vote-counting center last week.
In a series of interviews with a half dozen members of the officers' reform movement, all of whom declined to be identified by name, some of the officers expressed pessimism about peaceful change following the election. One colonel called the exercise "deeply frustrating for the people." He added: "Now the nation is groping for another peaceful alternative, and we all know there is none."
Military sources estimate that about 1,000 of the approximately 15,000 officers commissioned since 1971 are active members of the reform movement and that thousands of others are sympathizers. Most members are junior officers, but some colonels also belong to the movement.
The sources said cadets of the Philippine Military Academy late last month also came out openly in support of the reform movement's goals, which include the retirement of generals whose tenures have been extended beyond mandatory retirement age and restoration of discipline and professionalism in the military.
The reformists traced some of the pressure on them to Gen. Fabian Ver, a confidant and cousin of President Ferdinand Marcos. Marcos announced today that he had accepted Ver's resignation from the post. But he said the 66-year-old general would continue to serve in an advisory capacity that he refused to discuss in detail.
One reformist officer and opposition politicians said they believed Ver's retirement was largely a cosmetic move to defuse anti-Marcos protests here and mollify Reagan administration officials after the election. The officer, a former associate of Ver, said Ver is likely to retain power and influence in the armed forces through loyal senior officers whom he placed in key positions.
Marcos said today that Ver has been replaced by his deputy, Lt. Gen. Fidel Ramos, who was taking over as "acting chief of staff." Ramos held the position last year while Ver was on trial with 25 others on charges of involvement in the assassination of opposition leader Benigno Aquino in 1983. All were acquitted.
U.S. officials have said Ver's presence is an obstacle to sweeping military reforms needed to combat effectively a spreading Communist insurgency. Both U.S. officials and Philippine reformist officers characterize the 200,000-member armed forces as beset by low morale, factionalism and emphasis on personal loyalty to Marcos over competence.
In discussions after the Feb. 7 elections, members of the reform movement expressed anger about what they said was the illegal use by high-ranking officers of military units for political "electioneering" activities and electoral irregularities in favor of Marcos. Among the practices, they said, were the use by service commanders of military men to provide crowds for Marcos campaign rallies and the deployment of field units to support paramilitary forces directly engaged in cheating such as ballot-box snatching.
The reformist officers said their loose-knit organization is trying to document reports of electoral fraud and will submit the results to "the proper agencies" and the public.
A reformist military coup is unlikely "because reformist officers know the odds they are faced with," said a retired senior officer associated with the group. "All the key positions in the military are manned by officers beholden to Marcos," he said. He added, however, that "while they [the reformists] do not have a single leader now, they can create so much disturbance. Now they know they are strong and backed up by retired officers."
Reformist officers declined to comment on Aquino's appeals to military men not to obey unjust orders from their superiors but said the military "would take the cue from the public" if a conflict arose between the Marcos government and opposition demonstrators.
While the reform movement has taken pains to stress its nonpartisan position on the presidential election, individual officers made it clear that they supported Aquino because she represents a popular clamor for change after 20 years of Marcos.
The officers fear the movement may be branded as partisan following a walkout by computer operators, led by the wife of a leading reformist officer, from a vote-counting center set up by the Marcos-appointed Commission on Elections, which administers Philippine elections. Nearly 40 operators walked out last week after they discovered what they said were efforts to manipulate the vote-counting in favor of Marcos.
Most of the operators were employes of the National Computer Center, a government agency controlled by the office of the president and located in a military camp in greater Manila. The head of the center, Col. Pedro Baraoidan, was put in charge of the center's vote-counting operation.
Linda Kapunan, 33, the wife of a reformist colonel, said Baraoidan was involved in altering computer printouts of vote totals to show Marcos in the lead. Baraoidan has denied the charge and accused his employes of being "hard-core opposition" members out to "sabotage" the vote count.
Reformist officers said the employes who walked out, most of them women, are in danger and that some of them are under the protection of the movement's members.