Filipinos vote after costly campaign

The real issue in Monday's National Assembly elections in the Philippines is how people will react to the result. President Ferdinand Marcos is determined that his party, the New Society Movement (KBL) should win an overwhelming victory.

He has publicly predicted that the opposition will obtain not more than 20 of the 183 seats at stake.

If the KBL does win a landslide - despite economic crisis, alleged electoral fraud, and lingering suspicion of high-level involvement in the assassination of opposition leader Benigno Aquino - the public's response will be important to watch.

Inaction and indifference to the result could indicate that Mr. Marcos has finally regained his balance after nine months of turmoil following the Aquino assassination.

The election campaign has generated little passion. Daily life has tended to flow around the campagin rather than come to a halt. Manila, the far southern city of Davao, and smaller communities in Mindanao, all seem to present the same picture. Walls and trees are covered with posters, but few people seem to stop and look.

Radio and television carry large amounts of KBL advertising, and much less for the opposition. (The opposition claims that TV stations in Manila and some parts of the provinces have told them that they have no advertising space available).

Though the campaign may have offered a little entertainment, many Filipinos seem gloomy about the future. Their concerns were illustrated by a recent nationwide poll conducted by the Bulletin Today, Manila's pro-government daily. Those interviewed were most disturbed about inflation, rising unemployment, and corruption in government. Asked if these problems could still be solved, less than half the respondents on average said yes.

The present election campaign, which ended on Saturday night, has not thrown up any new solutions for the country's economic crisis. In fact, it may have aggravated it. The KBL has poured an unprecedented amount of money into the campaign. There are strong suspicions that much of the money is coming from government funds.

A senior executive in Makati, Manila's main business center, says that Central Bank officials have told him the government will use at least 2 billion pesos ($142 million) in government funds for the campaign.

Business Day, a Manila business paper, noted that in the last three weeks the government borrowed 4.7 billion pesos ($330 million) from the Central Bank. Cesar Virata, prime minister and minister of finance, confirmed the increase, but said its coincidence with the elections was purely accidental.

Much of the money is thought to prevent a further decline in the economy during the electoral campaign. Some, however is thought to have gone to the campaign itself.

By law, a candidate may not spend more than 60,000 pesos ($4,200) on his campaign. The political party can provide a maximum of 50 centavos (3 cents) per registered voter.

In the southern province of Davao del Norte, with about 397,000 registered voters, this would add up to an expenditure of about $16,000. The KBL is probably spending about 10 times that, says a KBL official.

''The election will cost, say 1 to 2 million pesos,'' said Tony Lagunzad, a KBL barangay captain - a combination of ward leader and community official - in Tagum.

When Sylvestre Padilla, the local representative of the Commission on Elections (Comelec), the theoretically nonpartisan body charged with organizing elections, was asked whether he had heard of potential flying voters being paid 50 pesos to register more than once, he frowned.

''That seems high,'' he said. ''Twenty is about average.''

The opposition also has to contend with the indelible ink that comes off after 10 minutes' application of rubbing alcohol. (Davao city is experiencing a run on rubbing alcohol.)

The opposition's own disunity and general lack of charisma or leadership is compounded by the boycott movement - both by the underground Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the more radical oppositionists who see no point is running in any election President Marcos organizes. The CPP says it will make its presence felt on Monday by seizing ballot boxes in some areas.

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