Filipinos, almost by nature, relish heated debate on politics. In fact, a mardi gras atmosphere prevailed in election campaigns before martial law began in 1972. Now that Ferdinand Marcos is under pressure to loosen his grip on the Philippines, temptations for dramatic campaigning are returning.
Those temptations have led yet another opposition group to announce it will participate in the May election for the National Assembly, despite a movement to boycott the vote.
The issue of a boycott, reasoned the Pilipino Democratic Party-Fight (PDP-Laban) when it decided Jan. 26 to join in the elections, ''is a divisive issue that lends itself to manipulation by (President) Marcos' regime.''
Anti-boycott advocates say Filipinos are not used to ''boycott ideology'' nor to any ideology during elections.
Whether true or not, the movement for a boycott has thinned out.
Another big opposition party, United Nationalist Democratic Organisation (UNIDO), also announced a participation move despite an earlier threat by most anti-Marcos groups to boycott if the President did not heed demands for safeguards for an honest election. Mr. Marcos ignored most of the opposition demands.
Boycott proponents, led by ex-senators Jose Diokno and Lorenzo Tanada, have argued that participation will ''legitimize the authoritarian regime'' of Marcos , and that clean and honest elections are impossible so long as he is in power. However, Tanada's and Diokno's followers represent new political movements and not political parties. Moreover, these movements were set up only after the assassination of opposition leader Benigno Aquino last August.
With PDP-Laban's decision to field candidates, Mr. Tanada, who is the party's chairman, has put in his resignation from the post.
Those who have decided to participate do not believe that the elections will be free from fraud and therefore do not expect a sweeping victory. UNIDO President Salvador Laurel has said that opposition parties can aspire for only up to 30 percent of the total contested seats at the National Assembly. ''This will give the opposition a power beachhead where there was none before,'' Mr. Laurel said.
The Assembly elections scheduled on May 14 will be the second since 1978, when Mr. Aquino campaigned from a prison cell for a seat from Manila. His party, the then Laban (Fight) Party, lost. His widow, Corazon Aquino, is now closely watched for her decision on the boycott. It is expected she will give a green light for participation.
Analysts of the martyred Aquino said that Aquino himself had believed that ''democracy must be given a last chance,'' otherwise even the ultranationalists may be swept out by the growing ranks of the New People's Army, the military arm of the outlawed Communist Party of the Philippines.
A top PDP-Laban source told The Christian Science Monitor that Mrs. Aquino would follow her late husband's position of participation in the May election.
In a speech before the PDP-Laban convention, Mrs. Aquino said she has been greatly consoled by the political awakening of the people as brought about by her husband's sacrifice.
''Lately however, I have been saddened by the seeming animosity between the proponents of participation and boycott for the Assembly elections,'' Mrs. Aquino said.
The PDP-Laban source added that even Agapito ''Butz'' Aquino, the slain leader's younger brother who has been spearheading the boycott group, can be expected to fall in line with Mrs. Aquino's decision and thus help in the campaign for the opposition candidates.