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Philippines' divided opposition claims a victory against Marcos

By Emilia TagazaSpecial to The Christian Science Monitor / February 1, 1984



Manila

A heavy turnout at an anti-Marcos march Tuesday has raised morale among the political opposition in the Philippines. Agapito (Butz) Aquino, the younger brother of of the slain opposition leader Benigno Aquino, said the overwhelming number of protesters in the streets indicates that the ''Filipinos have woken up to the realities of the oppressive regime of President (Ferdinand) Marcos.''

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Leading the march, he added that the protest once again proved that the opposition is ''finally united.''

Political observers, however, are not convinced that the opposition's euphoria over its new victory will last long.

Supporters of the Aquino cause, it seems, must constantly introduce novel forms of protest to sustain interest in anti-government rallies, particularly among the middle- and upper-class, who provided numbers to last fall's demonstrations following the Aug. 21 assassination of Aquino.

In recent weeks, the divided opposition has been struggling against a lackluster response to its calls for protests, including the call to boycott the January 27 referendum that amended the Constitution.

This latest protest started as a trifling long-distance run called by opposition groups as a move to boycott the referendum. Dubbed as ''Tarlac-to-tarmac,'' the run covered a distance of about 90 miles from Tarlac province, the birthplace of Aquino, to the tarmac of the Manila airport where he was shot. Only 300 participants joined the run at the start. However, just outside Manila, anti-riot forces stopped the runners, who then spent two nights at a churchyard to consider their next move. The wide publicity over the tension at the Manila border between the runners and the military attracted great interest, pressuring the government to allow the run to continue. Many Filipinos lined the streets, cheering and feeding the marchers who were led by the nation's legal opposition groups.

Still, for the more prosperous citizens who joined last year's demonstrations , the noisy rallies seem to have become just a fad. Most Filipinos are turning their attention to the country's economic crisis, which continues to erode their incomes, and which, according to some economic forecasts, could cause massive labor layoffs later this year.

Meanwhile, the Commission on Elections said it has tabulated most of the referendum votes, which showed approval of the proposed constitutional amendments. The main proposal was designed to clear the controversial issue of succession to President Marcos, who has ruled the Philippines for 19 years.

Another amendment cut down the size of voting districts for the National Assembly (parliament) elections scheduled for May 14. The new provision is considered to provide opposition parties a better chance to compete against the enormous campaign machinery of President Marcos' ruling party, the New Society Movement.