Philippine vote: guns, money

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

Guns and money will once again play an important role in February's Philippine presidential election. Both the money -- perhaps as much as half a billion dollars -- and the guns will come from a mixture of public and private sources. President Ferdinand Marcos's party will have the overwhelming majority of both.

President Marcos, an aide says, will spend about 2 billion pesos ($106 million) in ``private funds'' on the campaign -- and will add another billion if necessary. Most of the money will come from the Marcos family itself, the aide said. The rest will come from what he jocularly called the Marcoses' ``captive group'' of businessmen -- friends (often called ``cronies'' here) such as Roberto Benedicto and Eduardo Cojuangco.

In addition to this, the aide noted, there will be government money from sources like the Ministry of Public Works and the Ministry of Human Settlements, which is headed by Mrs. Marcos. Nongovernment estimates of the total amount available from $265 million to $531 million. The average Filipino's per capita income is calculated to be $650 a year.

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Just before Christmas, there were indications that the government was assembling the official component of its electoral war chest. The Central Bank reported that government borrowing from the bank had jumped suddenly by $202 million. The May 1984 elections had been preceded by a spurt in government borrowings (believed to be election-related) of $249 million. But this time the bank later dismissed the report as a clerical error.

About the same time, however, the government announced the disbursement of $27 million in unexplained financial aid to local governments.

The opposition ticket of Corazon Aquino and Salvador Laurel is hoping to raise about $37 million. Most of this will probably come from Manila businessmen, from wealthy individuals like Mrs. Aquino's brother, Jose Cojuangco (the cousin of Marcos confidant Eduardo Cojuangco), and from Filipinos overseas.

Jose Cojuangco and another opposition leader, Ramon Mitra, returned last week from a fund-raising drive in the United States. Mr. Marcos recently claimed that Aquino has foreign backing, but so far has not substantiated this.

The net result of this electoral spending spree will be further aggravation of the country's economic problems. The massive inflow of money into the economy after the last election was held responsible for an inflation rate that peaked in October 1984 at 63 percent.

As for the role of guns, in early December Brig. Gen. Isidoro de Guzman was appointed senior military commander in Central Luzon. The move, military sources say, is a clear indication that the government plans to use military commanders to ensure a ruling party win.

De Guzman, a reputed Marcos loyalist, has been in Central Luzon before. His military record shows him stationed there between 1976 and 1982. During that time, a military source says, he developed a reputation for ``delivering the vote'' to the ruling party in elections. This was particularly noteworthy, the source says, because the area is considered traditionally pro-opposition.

The other senior military commander in Central Luzon is also a hard-core Marcos supporter. Gen. Antonio Palafox, commander of the Fifth Division, first worked for Marcos in the early 1960s, when he was a member of what was then the Philippine Senate.

Central Luzon will be a challenge for the government this time. Ruling party strategists note that it has about 2.7 million voters. But it is the home area of both Mrs. Aquino and her assassinated husband, opposition leader Benigno Aquino Jr. Marcos's friend, Eduardo Cojuangco, the ruling party chairman for the region, has been generous with his money -- even the local priests receive a monthly stipend from him. But the Aquino campaign generated enormous crowds during its swing through the area.

Military sources say they expect the government to use the expertise of at least two other top commanders in Luzon to ensure a government victory. Gen. Tomas Dumpit, regional unified commander in Marcos' home area in the far north, will be actively involved. So, the sources predict, will Gen. Andres Ramos (no relation to Assistant Chief of Staff Fidel Ramos). Both generals are former chiefs of staff of the Presidential Security Command, an elite unit handpicked by President Marcos and Gen. Fabian Ver, h is relative and armed forces chief of staff.

The official armed forces will be backed by private armies. Probably the biggest and the best is that of Marcos's friend Eduardo Cojuangco.

Military sources estimate that Cojuangco's army numbers at least 700 to 1,000 men. Western and Filipino sources say that Cojuangco's army is Israeli-trained. Filipino military sources say that four or five Israeli advisers started training his forces in early 1984.

As a ``courtesy,'' the same sources say, officers and men of the elite Presidential Security Command were invited to join the training sessions. The command was reportedly made up of men under the command of Maj. Wyrlo Ver, one of General Ver's three sons, all of whom have important positions in the command.

The same sources say that Cojuangco's troops are armed with the highly regarded Galil combat rifle from Israel and may also have Singapore-made machine guns. The private army is based in Central Luzon, on Negros island, and on Bugsuk island. Before units of the official armed forces can land on Bugsuk, a Western military attach'e says, they have to request permission from Cojuangco's men.

Armando Gustilo, one of the political forces on the central island of Negros, and president of the National Federation of Sugarcane Planters, controls another formidable force. Like many private armies, Gustilo's men are officially members of the paramilitary Civilian Home Defense Force. But, military sources on Negros say that Gustilo actually pays the men's salaries, and they do his bidding.

Gustilo's force and a unit of the Philippines Constabulary are held responsible for shooting and killing at least 27 antigovernment demonstrators in the small town of Escalante last September. (The overall military commander in the area at the time was General de Guzman.)

Ruling party officials acknowledge that they are relying on Gustilo to produce the right vote in the central Philippines. In fact, Gustilo's hold over his bailiwick in northern Negros will probably be strengthened before the presidential election. The last session of the National Assembly voted to create a new province in Negros. To be known as Negros del Norte, the province will encompass Gustilo's area of authority. The move has been challenged in the Supreme Court, and a referendum on the new provinc e is scheduled for Jan. 3.

The National Citizens' Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel), the independent electoral watchdog, is planning to observe the referendum in what it regards as the first test of its skills and of the government's determination to win.

Namfrel expects other, more traditional forms of fraud in the coming presidential elections. One classic approach is what is known here as the ``flying voter'' -- the illegal registration of nonresidents who can be used to swing critical votes in the desired direction.

Namfrel has recently been checking on this with the aid of computer-based projections of the voting population. Taking as its base the 1980 census, Namfrel projected the 1984 voting population. It then compared this figure with the actual number of registered voters. The comparison came up with some remarkable discrepancies.

For example, in the Manila municipality of Makati, -- run by Mayor Nemesio Yabut, a longtime Marcos supporter -- there were about 75,000 more registered voters than voting population. In other parts of the country, including in Central Luzon, the voter-registration figure was unusually low. This, Namfrel officials say, probably reflects an effort by ruling party supporters to discourage voter registration in traditional opposition areas.

The computer survey underlines the importance of the two voter registration exercises that took place on Dec. 28 and 29. It is on the basis of these two days that the eligibility of voters for the Feb. 7 election will be decided.

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