Marcos Bid Faces Large Hurdles

Despite charges pending against her, the former first lady is running for the presidency

FORMER first lady Imelda Marcos announced her intention to run for the presidency Tuesday as she emerged from a Philippine court where she pleaded not guilty to six charges of graft.

If she manages to secure the nomination of a political party, she will be ducking in and out of courtrooms during her campaign due to the multitude of civil and criminal charges she faces.

If elected May 11, she will be the first Philippine president who has been found civilly liable for murder. She and her husband Ferdinand, the former president of the Philippines, were found liable by a US District Court in December of 1989 in the 1981 murders of two anti-Marcos activists in Seattle.

Mrs. Marcos, who returned to the Philippines Nov. 4 after almost six years of exile in Hawaii, says she will seek the nomination of the Nacionalista Party (NP), one of the country's oldest political institutions.

Other contenders for the NP nomination are businessman Eduardo "Danding" Cojuangco; President Corazon Aquino's vice president, Salvador Laurel; and Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile, a former defense minister who helped lead the 1986 revolt that toppled the Marcos regime. The NP recently splintered into three blocs, and each of the three contenders heads a faction.

Until Marcos threw her hat into the ring, Mr. Cojuangco was considered to have an edge over other contenders. The estranged first cousin of President Aquino, Cojuangco was a close associate of former President Marcos. But ties between Cojuangco and Mrs. Marcos are said to be strained. Sources close to Marcos say she is negotiating with Cojuancgo and suggest her intent in seeking the nomination is to force him to make concessions she seeks. The party convention is scheduled for Jan. 26.

Political analysts say Marcos faces several obstacles. Her support appears to be limited to a segment of the poor which benefited from projects she initiated as first lady.

Rudolfo Albano, a prominent supporter of the late president, has publicly urged Marcos to stay out of the race.

"We love the first lady," he said in a television interview. "But because of the number of cases she is facing, I pity her. She won't be able to ward off all these attacks."

The major question seems to be whether Filipinos, who signaled their discontent with the Marcos regime by staging a successful "people power" revolution in 1986, are willing to vote for a woman who fled with her husband as the result of a movement based on the widespread perception that the couple was involved in corruption, embezzlement, extortion, theft, torture, murder, and organized crime.

"I don't believe this country will vote again for a family that drove it into the poorhouse," Aquino spokesman Horacio Paredes says.

But Marcos seems to be counting on the sometimes-baffling propensity of Filipinos to forgive and forget.

"There is forgiveness if there is remorse - it is a Catholic thing - with penance there is forgiveness," says Alan Ortiz, assistant secretary to the president's National Security Council. "But we Filipinos can also hold a grudge."

"We are witnessing the return of the dark forces of political oligarchy and economic monopoly which we thought were overthrown," says Fidel Ramos, the former Philippine defense chief. He vowed to prevent the return to power of the Marcos family.

Marcos faces a slate of charges which range from tax evasion to liability for human-rights abuses. A class-action suit is expected to go to trial in Hawaii in February, brought by people claiming to have suffered human-rights abuses under President Marcos. A similar suit is being prepared for prosecution in the Philippines.

Philippine legal experts say the charges do not prevent her from running.

But along with more than 50 criminal and civil suits brought against her by the Philippine government since her return and at least 30 other civil suits filed in her absence, they have kept her busy posting bail, being repeatedly fingerprinted, and pleading at arraignments.

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