What you need to know about THE PHILIPPINE ELECTION. A presidential election: issues and candidates

Issues There is really only one -- President Ferdinand Marcos. A couple of years ago, his power seemed unassailable, but now it is precarious. The opposition candidates want to dismantle the political edifice Mr. Marcos has created over the last 20 years in office.

Marcos's slogan is ``Marcos for national recovery'' -- a somewhat ambiguous rallying cry, given the fact that he has been in power for two decades and has thus presumably presided over the national decline. He stresses his experience in government and promises economic and military reforms if reelected.

Marcos's main aims are probably to consolidate his power base, quiet foreign criticism by obtaining a new mandate, and then prepare for a succession that will protect his family and fortune, analysts say.

He has attacked -- with some success, his aides feel -- Mrs. Aquino's political inexperience and fuzziness on issues. He has not said much about Mr. Laurel. He has also revived an argument he long used against Aquino's husband, former opposition leader Benigno Aquino Jr. -- that she is working with the communists (despite the fact that Marcos also maintains that a gunman hired by ``the communists'' killed Mr. Aquino in 1983).

Aquino has made Marcos the focal point of her campaign. She points to economic chaos, allegedly rampant corruption, police and military brutality -- and not least to the assassination of her husband. She promises economic reforms, including the break-up of ``crony monopolies'' and the firing of military commanders who have stayed on past retirement. She also speaks of an amnesty for supporters of the Communist Party, which is waging a highly successful political and armed struggle against the Marcos government. She has said that if elected she will declare a six-month cease-fire to allow both sides to make contact and talk. Candidates Ferdinand Marcos. Candidate of the ruling party, the Movement for a New Society. Born in 1917 in the province of Ilocos Norte. At age 22 was accused of the murder of a political rival of his father. Was convicted, but verdict later overruled after he appealed to Supreme Court. A guerrilla during World War II, his supporters claim he is his country's most decorated war hero. The claim is now being challenged. Arturo Tolentino. Vice-presidential candidate. Born in 1910 on Luzon Island. First elected to parliament in 1949. Leading constitutional specialist. Until his nomination as Marcos's running mate, he was Marcos's most outspoken critic inside the KBL. Marcos has said that he will seriously consider stepping down in 1992 and that Mr. Tolentino is one possible successor. By then, Tolentino will be 79. Supporters of Mrs. Marcos depict Tolentino as a pliable front man for the first lady, should her husband suddenly become incapacitated. Corazon Cojuangco Aquino. Born in 1933 in central Luzon. Member of Cojuangco family, a powerful economic and political force in their area. (Her cousin and political adversary Eduardo Cojuangco, is probably the richest of Marcos's so-called ``economic cronies.'') Convent-educated in the Philippines with some college education in the US, she stayed in her husband's shadow until his assassination. Since then, according to some analysts, she has emerged as an articulate, astute, and determined leader. Salvador Laurel. Leader of United National Democratic Organization (UNIDO). Agreed to be Cory's running mate literally at the 11th hour, and he and Aquino registered one hour before deadline. Had previously announced his candidacy for president, and his aides had already begun attacking Aquino. He is from an old political family. Born 1928 in the province of Batangas, Laurel was a senator from 1967 to 1973. After martial law, he rallied to Marcos's party, finally breaking with Marcos in 1980. Other key actors Imelda Romualdez Marcos. Minister of human settlements and governor of metropolitan Manila. Married the future president in 1954. Has created her own political and military power base since martial law. Sees herself as a major asset to the KBL campaign. Some other party leaders doubt this. Her oft-repeated claim that she has no desire to succeed her husband is also treated with some skepticism. Jose Cojuangco. Aquino's brother and major supporter of and fundraiser for her campaign. Pilipino Democratic Party secretary-general. Landowner and businessman who, like many traditional politicians, had his own modest private army before martial law. Eduardo Cojuangco. Cousin of Jose and Corazon Aquino and one of the President's closest confidants. One of the richest men in the country. As close adviser to Marcos, he is one of the few who is said not to flinch from telling the President bad news. KBL chairman for central Luzon. The Roman Catholic Church. Generally a cautious force of social change. But Cardinal Sin has made no secret of his desire to see President Marcos depart in peace. Many rank-and-file priests and nuns, on the other hand, now lean towards the radical left. Namfrel. Organized and funded by conservative businessmen, backed by the Catholic church, supported by the US. Its poll-watching was the key to relatively clean elections in 1984. Namfrel plans a repetition and expansion of its operations this time. Namfrel organizers fear that the Commission on Elections will severely limit their activities. The left. Above ground: Bayan (Bagong Aliyansang Makabayan, or New Nationalist Alliance). Underground: the Communist Party and its two wings, the National Democratic Front and the New People's Army. The legal and illegal groups have few if any political differences. The underground Communist Party decided in mid-January to boycott the election. Bayan soon afterwards followed suit. In both cases, the decision was a hard one: Senior Communist Party members now in prison were in favor of participation, if only to get the party's message across. And some of Bayan's best-known figures have either taken leave of absence or resigned from the movement.

Bayan's decision could have a serious effect on the Aquino campaign, because she would presumably lose the votes of some 2 million Bayan supporters. But the left's last call for an electoral boycott, during the May 1984 National Assembly elections, fizzled. Party cadres privately say that the victory of a reformist like Cory could cause them big problems. The US. Like the left, basically undecided. Though generally in agreement that Marcos should go, the various parts of the Reagan administration seem unable to decide when and how this should happen. If the vote is not massively fraudulent, one official suggests, and if Marcos wins by only a narrow margin, US concern might not be excessive. Washington would then continue its present policy of polite pressure on Marcos to reform.

Strongholds Marcos has traditionally relied on the ``solid north'' -- his home province of Ilocos Norte and other provinces dominated by members of his dialect group, the Ilocanos. Region 1, the core of the solid north (2 million registered voters), is considered impregnable to the opposition, although Aquino drew a large crowd during a rally there in early January. The neighboring Region 2 -- controlled by Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile -- should also be safe for the KBL, unless Enrile, who hints that he may soon be leaving politics, decides to allow a clean election.

Other areas of Luzon are, from Marcos's perspective, less reliable than before. In the Visayas, Region 8 -- which is Imelda Marcos's home area in the middle of the Philippine archipelago -- has always been a KBL hold-out. One of Imelda Marcos's many attractions for her future husband, according to a sympathetic Marcos biographer, was the fact that her family controlled at least 550,000 votes in their home area. (The region has more than 1.3 million registered voters). But the collapse of sugar, the region's main crop, and the ensuing unemployment and hunger may have affected this.

The southern island of Mindanao, Region 12 -- mostly Muslim, and much of it militarily uncontrollable -- has also been consistently pro-KBL. The region is handled for the KBL by Ali Dimaporo, a tough old-fashioned warlord. Few people have in the past had the courage to observe the polls or contest the results. Vote-rigging here is a time-honored tradition. Dimaporo is, however, reportedly irritated at Marcos's failure to name him vice-presidential candidate. It is not clear yet whether this will affect his pro-KBL zeal. Dimaporo also faces a tough challenge from another warlord family, the Alontos, who have allied themselves with the opposition's Laurel. A third important Muslim political family in the area has also recently defected to the opposition.

Opposition strongholds include Manila and the country's second-largest city, Cebu. Manila, with over 4 million votes, is expected to go opposition with a large majority -- perhaps as high as 70 percent for Aquino. Despite the presence of Tolentino (the only KBL man to win in Manila in 1984), KBL campaign officials say they are concentrating on ``damage control'' in the capital. Cebu is another area where the KBL was unable completely to break the opposition's grip on politics. Swing areas

Unexpectedly large crowds at opposition rallies in central Luzon (Region 3) and the southern Tagalog (Region 4) threw into doubt the government's ability to hold onto these vote-rich areas. Between them, they muster just over 20 percent of the nationwide total.

In the south, Region 11 -- which includes the third-largest city of Davao -- has traditionally been an opposition stronghold. But this time, the attitude of the far-left will be important. The region is its growth area. A decision by the left to discourage voting could eat into the opposition's total. But pro-opposition sentiments still seem to be running high. Davao is said to have produced the campaign's biggest rally so far.-- P.Q.J.

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