As a massed choir led by his daughter sang “and He shall reign for ever and ever,” President Ferdinand E. Marcos marked his 68th birthday today with an embrace from one of his strongest critics and a vow to stay in the office he has held for the past 20 years.
After years of public sparring, Marcos and Roman Catholic Cardinal Jaime L. Sin stood side by side at a rally of supporters in a central Manila park, the president’s first major public appearance since June 12. The choir sang part of Handel’s “Messiah.”
Sin said his meeting with Marcos “opens a new horizon of harmony” between church and state in this troubled nation.
Strong Critic in Past
In the past, Sin has accused Marcos’ government of corruption and human rights violations, and has labeled the president a dictator. Last year, the archbishop called for bigger anti-government demonstrations to end Marcos’ rule.
Sin had turned down previous requests to celebrate Mass for Marcos on his birthday. He acceded this year, saying humility was the first step toward national reconciliation.
Government officials, including Prime Minister Cesar E.A. Virata and Chief Justice Felix Makasiar, foreign diplomats and church dignitaries, sat with the president and his wife, Imelda, on a covered grandstand at Rizal Park.
The government bused in about 50,000 people to cheer Marcos at the Mass.
Marcos, who has ruled this country of 53 million for two decades, eight of them under martial law, had earlier declared his birthday a national holiday. He changed his mind Monday, saying he did not want to deprive workers of a day’s wages.
“My prayer to God is that Ferdinand E. Marcos be granted the joy and love of his family and the respect and remembrance of the Filipino people,” Sin said in his homily.
He led the congregation in cheering Marcos, then took the president by the hand and led him to the front of the stage where they each released a white dove. Then, Sin and Marcos embraced as the crowd cheered.
It was the first time since Pope John Paul II’s visit to Manila in 1981 that Sin appeared with Marcos in a nationally televised event, and only their third public meeting since 1974.
During a 75-minute speech, Marcos told the crowd, “I repeat, if I no longer can bring about an improvement in the life of our people, I myself will voluntarily resign. . . . However, I hear other voices, and these voices tell me this is not the time to leave the presidency.”