The government of President Corazon Aquino shifted its stance on freedom for political prisoners again today, saying that 441 would be freed quickly but that the cases of four senior Communist leaders would require "further review."
Yesterday, Aquino spokesman Rene Saguisag had said that everyone would be freed, including the Communist leaders, without discrimination.
The four are Jose Maria Sison, a founder and first chairman of the Communist Party of the Philippines; Bernabe Buscayno, also known as Commander Dante, the alleged head of the New People's Army, the party's armed wing; Rubin Alegre, a member of a New People's Army liquidation squad that police believe was involved in the killing of a high-ranking police official last year, and Alex Berondo, another liquidation squad member linked to a shoot-out last year with policemen in a Manila slum.
Military officials have opposed releasing senior Communist leaders because, they say, it might strengthen the Communist insurgency.
The government has been willing to free leaders of groups commonly considered to be affiliated with the Communists, however.
Those released today included Horacio (Boy) Morales, alleged head of the National Democratic Front; the Rev. Edicio de la Torre, said to head a group called Christians for National Liberation, and Nemesio Prudente, said to be the bankroller of a group called Urban Poor.
As the prisoners walked free, Saguisag spoke in conciliatory tones of Marcos' first statement from exile, in which he said he had avoided using force against military rebels who eventually ousted him, because of the risk of casualties.
"If he'd really decided to dig in, so much blood would have been spilled," said Saguisag. He called on Marcos to avoid steps that might cause tensions to rise again.
The new government, meanwhile, was reported to be continuing to consolidate its military control as generals based in the north, a Marcos stronghold, called in with promises of allegiance.
The armed forces spokesman, Col. Luis San Andres, discounted reports in Manila newspapers that Marcos loyalists are conspiring in the north against Aquino. "All resistance has ceased," he said.
Search teams continued to round up weapons. Large numbers of guns were reported recovered from homes belonging to Marcos' son, Ferdinand Jr., and Navy Capt. Alfredo Romualdez, a brother of Marcos' wife, Imelda.
High-powered firearms also were reported confiscated from businesses owned by Eduard Cojuangco, a close associate of Marcos who fled to Hawaii with him. Eighteen mines were reported defused at the Malacanang presidential palace.
Armed Forces Chief of Staff Gen. Fidel Ramos pressed ahead with military reform, replacing 22 senior officers who have overstayed their retirement dates. One was former chief of staff Gen. Fabian Ver, who is also in Honolulu with Marcos.