Marcos's party appears ahead in Philippines election countdown

Just over a week before the May 14 elections for the Philippine parliament, it is evident that President Ferdinand Marcos's ruling party will win a majority of the 183 seats being contested.

This, despite points gained by the opposition camp after the assassination last year of the charismatic opposition leader, Benigno Aquino Jr. His murder triggered massive antigovernment rallies demanding Marcos's resignation.

A victory for the ruling New Society Movement (KBL), however, does not necessarily mean that the threats to Mr. Marcos's political survival are past. The threats are political and economic, both being abetted by confirmation of Marcos's poor health.

On the political front, Marcos's major problem is his own KBL party, which he now seems unable to control fully.

In elections during the 1972-1981 martial-law period, Marcos's final choice of candidates was unquestioned. This time, members who are uncertain about his political durability have begun to question his moves. Several members who did not make it to the party ticket broke away from KBL and are running as independent or opposition candidates.

One example is incumbent KBL assemblywoman Helena Benitez, who was ''dumped'' by the party from the contest in Cavite Province, south of Manila. Now running as an independent candidate, Benitez has mounted an attack against KBL for discrimination against women. The outgoing National Assembly had 12 female members, but only three women are official candidates this time - including the President's daughter.

The current economic crisis - the worst in its postwar history, will have to be dealt with after the elections. There is a chronic shortage in foreign exchange and foreign banks are refusing to provide new credit until the government obtains a new standby credit from the International Monetary Fund. Partly because of uncertainties over Marcos's health and the succession procedure, foreign lenders and investors cut the flow of funds into the country.

The dollar shortage has already resulted in two peso devaluations and many business shutdowns for lack of imported raw materials. Prices and unemployment have also been rising.

Adding to government problems are the public hearings by an independent Fact-Finding Board set up to investigate the assassination of Benigno Aquino. They have discredited the government's claim that a lone communist gunman shot Aquino. The board now appears to support the widely held suspicion that Aquino was killed by his military escorts.

The notoriously fragmented opposition has not been able to transform such issues against the government into support for itself. By blaming the government for the debt crisis without presenting a concrete economic platform, the opposition has gained little credibility with average Filipinos.

Rather, the campaign has proceeded along the old line of politics by personality and patronage.

The opposition is handicapped by meager financial resources. The KBL has injected its campaign with large handouts. In the rural areas, people have been eagerly accepting their share of the campaign spoils. Quipped Prime Minister Cesar Virata: ''Elections in themselves are a form of income redistribution.''

Nor is the opposition helped by intraparty squabbles. The United Nationalist and Democratic Organization, the largest opposition group, suffered a major setback last week when three of its member parties quit to set up their own group.

The oposition's fight has also been dampened by the boycott group which refuses to recognize the elections.

To face the economic crisis effectively, Marcos must loosen his grip on the National Assembly. Any move that would threaten the assembly's role in nurturing future leaders and helping an orderly succession would bring negative reactions from those who are helping the country tide over the crisis - the nervous foreign creditors and investors and Marcos's allies, particularly the United States.

And if Marcos respects the National Assembly's independence, he is surrendering some of his authoritarian powers.

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