Philippine combatants take to the airwaves

With his political and military support rapidly eroding, Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines isolated himself in his palace Monday, engaged in a mass-media war with his opponents. In the morning, he held a televised press conference on the government-owned Channel 4. It was cut short as rebel troops captured the station at 10 a.m.

By afternoon, the beleaguered President had sent a truckload of crack snipers to secure a pro-Marcos station, Channel 9. He again held a press conference (which was largely by phone due to a bad video connection to the palace). ``If the loyalists [in the military] are losing morale, here I am!'' he said on TV.

Yet a third Marcos press conference after midnight displayed eight political and military leaders still supporting him. (Marcos had to be prompted to remember the names of most of them).

While he threatened violence against the large number of military men defecting and called for ``loyalists'' to rally with guns at the presidential palace, his opponents used their new-found outlet in Channel 4 to consolidate support for Marcos opponent Corazon Aquino and her spreading civil disobedience campaign.

``One of the things that did Marcos in, was that the harder he tried [on television], the deeper he got into a credibility gap,'' said Aquino publicity aide William Esposo.

Aquino supporters paraded Roman Catholic clergy, entertainers, and military defectors before the television cameras and made urgent pleas for people to crowd key streets to protect military rebels holed-up in Camp Crame.

Marcos traded threats over the airwaves with former Deputy Chief of Staff Lieut. Gen. Fidel Ramos, who resigned Saturday with Defense Minister, Juan Ponce Enrile. Both Gen. Ramos and Mr. Enrile were in Camp Crame, gathering more troops and crowds.

On the streets and in the homes of Metropolitan Manila, this television confrontation was avidly watched by millions. The television broadcasts helped spur spontaneous street rallies among Aquino supporters and embolden the people to block streets against Marcos-ordered military attacks.

Under Marcos, Channel 4 was widely criticized for its slanted and pro-Marcos news programs.

Its anchor people were the subject of much public ridicule.

The Aquino followers' confidence in ousting Marcos, two-and-a-half weeks after the widely discredited Feb. 7 presidential elections, was boosted by a White House statement yesterday that a solution to the crisis can only be achieved by a ``peaceful transition to a new government.''

The immediate impact of the Channel 4 broadcasts was important to the opposition in its attempt to unseat Marcos before his inauguration, planned for Tuesday.

The opposition announced on Channel 4 that the National Assembly would be reconvened Tuesday morning. The opposition claimed that there were enough members of the ruling party in the assembly ready to reverse their votes cast Feb. 15 in proclaiming Marcos the winner of the presidential tally.

Several military officers said they made a decision to defect Monday when they saw on the Marcos press conference yesterday morning that he had only three generals surrounding him at Malacanang Palace (although there may be more who are still supporting him).

The Channel 4 broadcasts also included pleas for remaining workers at Channel 9 (which shares facilities with Channels 2 and 13) to join them in the opposition television station.

When Channel 9 was taken over by the military Monday, only about 40 of some 1,000 workers remained, the rest having been advised during previous days that, for their own safety, they should leave.

The Channel 9 station, named Mahalika under Marcos, was renamed Filivision by a loose band of Aquino supporters made up of former and present broadcasters.

The station also includes five radio stations and the state-run Philippine News Agency.

The radio transmitter was used by the opposition forces Monday to restart broadcasts of Radio Veritas, a Catholic-sponsored radio program which, to most Filipinos, has served as the main source of news about the opposition.

(The church-run radio sent Manila citizens into mild euphoria Monday morning when it erroneously reported that Marcos had left the country.)

Radio Veritas's transmitter was destroyed by the Marcos military Saturday, and was attacked again Monday night. (Details of the attack are unknown at writing).

``If there were a total news blackout [during the campaign and after the election],'' said Mr. Esposo, ``Marcos could have had his own way.''

``People power was sustained by the media,'' he added.

Despite Mrs. Aquino's call for nonviolent civil disobedience, the Ramos-ordered attack on Channel 4's headquarters Monday resulted in one death. Observers said the soldier was killed when a machine gun of one of his comrades went off accidently. But later reports said he shot himself by accident. At least four people were wounded.

The opposition assault was led by Col. Mariano Santiago.

Many workers from Channel 9, and the old Channel 4, signed up to work at the opposition-led channel 4. The organizing committee for the station set up a ``security committee'' to screen people.

Many old-time Manila broadcasters, thrown out of their profession during the nine-years of martial law (1972-81) under Marcos, welcomed the return of the station to a non-Marcos group.

``The Marcos government set broadcasting back 20 years,'' said John W. Joseph Jr., a noted broadcaster from the 1960s.

``This country used to have some of the best media in the world.''

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