Opposition unites at 11th hour to challenge Marcos

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

In a surprise, 11th-hour move, the Philippine opposition united in its fight to unseat President Ferdinand Marcos. The two main opposition leaders, Corazon Aquino and Salvador Laurel, were reconciled Wednesday evening, hours before the deadline on filing for candidacy for the February presidential election.

Both sides made major concessions. Mrs. Aquino agreed to run under the banner of Mr. Laurel's party, the United Nationalist Democratic Organization. Laurel, to the irritation of some of his advisers, withdrew his own candidacy for the presidency and instead filed as Aquino's running mate.

The reunification, after the last-minute rupture of relations last Sunday, once again gives the opposition a fighting chance -- albeit remote -- of defeating President Marcos. The development came just hours after Mr. Marcos announced that As-semblyman Arturo Tolentino would be his running mate (profile, Page 11). The timing, however, appears to be purely coincidental.

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The reconciliation, according to the main mediator, who asked not to be identified, was brought about ``by simple home truths.'' The mediator said that ``both of them [Aquino and Laurel] were made to realize that if they were not united, neither would make it. And their funds would have dried up -- on both sides.''

``The feedback that both of them were getting obviously influenced them,'' the source continued. ``The pressure on them both from inside the country and outside -- from the [United States] -- was enormous.''

A source intimately involved in the reconciliation process said that ``someone from the [US] Senate and someone from Congress'' had been trying to get Mr. Laurel to reconsider. ``They were planning to tell Doy [Laurel's nickname] that the split was a big let down,'' the source said, adding that he thought the two members of Congress involved were Sen. Edward Kennedy (D) of Massachussetts and Rep. Stephen Solarz (D) of New York. (As of press time, there was no comment from either Senator Kenn edy or Representative Solarz on this information.)

Another vital factor in the reconciliation, the mediator said, was the kind of status accorded by the government to the largest opposition party in an election. Besides official recognition, the dominant opposition party also gets to plant officially-recognized, government-paid poll watchers in each of the country's 90,000 precincts -- crucial in a Filipino election.

The reconciliation effort started in earnest Wednesday morning, when a mutual acquaintance of the two leaders started shuttling between their residences. The intermediary says he saw Laurel twice and Aquino once.

``It was very hard for Doy to make the concession,'' the intermediary said. ``He had already embarked on the Doy-for-president campaign. It was very difficult for him to go back and eat his words.'' But around 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, the two met face to face, reportedly at the house of Maur Lichauco, a sister of Mrs. Aquino's husband, assassinated opposition leader Benigno Aquino.

There was, the intermediary said, a certain amount of ``nitty-gritty'' detail discussed. Laurel reportedly wants the premiership in any post-Marcos government. He also asked for ``about 30 percent'' of ministerial positions, the intermediary said. The two also discussed contingency plans in case the February elections were not held. (The Supreme Court is due to hear petitions questioning the constitutionality of the election code on Dec. 17 -- six days after the campaign starts. Marcos oppon ents suspect that this is a deliberate ploy: If the campaign is not going well for the government, the Supreme Court would rule against the election's legality, they claim.)

Aquino and Laurel finally filed for joint candidacy around 10:30 p.m. Manila time. The deadline was midnight.

``I have sacrificed personal ambition in the interest of national interest,'' Laurel was quoted as saying Wednesday evening. On Thursday, he said, he and Mrs. Aquino would go to his home province -- to fire ``the opening salvo'' in the campaign.

``I'm very happy we've finally achieved unity,'' Mrs. Aquino reportedly said.

But the alliance will be an uncomfortable one. Key issues, such as the campaign manager and organization, have yet to be decided. These may take considerable negotiation. Many Aquino supporters distrust Laurel, whom they describe as an old-style politician not very different from Marcos. Senior Laurel advisers, meanwhile, have been withering in their comments about Mrs Aquino, whom they regard as a dangerous novice.

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