Green light for Philippine election delights oppostion. But communists disappointed: now they have to work harder

Yesterday's decision by the Supreme Court of the Philippines to allow the presidential election to go ahead elated the moderate opposition and disappointed the communist underground. The opposition feels its campaign against President Ferdinand Marcos is gaining momentum. The underground would have preferred to see the election called off.

How the government feels about the decision is less clear. There had been widespread fears that the Supreme Court challenge would be used by the President to call off the election. Observers are now divided between those who feel the court defied the President's wishes and those who feel the decision reflects Mr. Marcos's determination to push through with the polls.

Eleven groups had filed petitions with the Supreme Court questioning the constitutionality of the law under which next February's elections will be held. The petitioners objected to President Marcos's refusal to resign before the elections -- he has promised to resign only after the elections if defeated.

After two days of open hearings, seven of the 12 justices who voted dismissed the petitions, five upheld them. The vote surprised even some of the court members.

``As early as Wednesday afternoon, I thought everyone was agreed on the unconstitutionality of the law,'' said Associate Justice Serafin Cuevas, who voted to up-hold the petitions.

In fact, only one member of the court, Chief Justice Ramon Aquino (no relation to opposition candidate Corazon Aquino), stated unambiguously Thursday that the electoral law was constitutional.

The other justices who voted to dismiss the petition based their decision on the need not to thwart what one of them called the ``political will'' of Filipinos to go to the polls. Several witnesses had argued before the court that the cancellation of the election at this late stage could lead to serious political unrest.

Some legal observers feel that Chief Justice Aquino's decision reflects President Marcos's feelings on the election.

The chief justice was described Thursday by one of his court colleagues as a ``rabid Marcos man,'' who has been known to call for the dismissal of some anti-government petitions to his court without reading them.

Mr. Aquino, a law school classmate and one-time legal counsel of the President, was made chief justice last month. The colleague -- who himself has hitherto been considered sympathetic to the government -- commented today that he did not know if Aquino's routinely pro-government decisions were based on an agreement with the President.

``But the fact is,'' he continued, ``it serves the occupant of Malacaang [the presidential palace] very well.'' At least one other Supreme Court justice has expressed similar opinions recently.

Other observers, however, suggested that the decision was a ``conscience vote,'' influenced by the fact that the electoral campaign was already underway and had generated widespread enthusiasm. The court decision is not yet final, however. The petitioners have 15 days to file a motion requesting the court to reconsider its verdict.

President Marcos' opponents were quick to express their satisfaction with the ruling.

``Now the people can begin counting the last days of the Marcos era,'' opposition vice-presidential candidate Salvador Laurel was quoted as saying yesterday.

Opposition rallies have drawn enormous crowds: 100,000 reportedly turned out to greet presidential candidate Corazaon Aquino in her home area of central Luzon earlier this week. Government rallies, by contrast, have generally been smaller and less enthusiastic affairs.

The initial reaction of the communist underground to the decision was disappointment. Cancellation of the election would have underlined the ``futility of the electoral process under Marcos,'' a member of the clandestine National Democratic Front said Thursday.

Cancellation also would have put an end to the strains within the underground -- notably between the front and its parent organization, the Communist Party of the Philippines -- over the question of the underground's response to the elections.

While the communist leadership seems to be leaning towards a de facto boycott of the polls, one National Democratic Front official has been pushing for a more open attitude toward the election. These debates, the official remarked, will now have to go on.

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