Early Philippine Returns Show Mixed Results for Aquino

Times Staff Writer

Early returns in Monday's violence-marred local elections showed some candidates endorsed by President Corazon Aquino leading in gubernatorial and mayoral races, but others were losing badly to old-time political bosses in key contests in metropolitan Manila and the rural provinces.

Although official returns will not be available until Wednesday at the earliest, analysts already began speculating today that the election results generally indicate a return to traditional, patronage politics despite Aquino's hopes that the election would usher in a new political order in the Philippines.

In the Manila suburb of Quezon City, for example, Mila Aquino-Albert, Aquino's sister-in-law, was running a distant third behind two veteran politicians, one of whom has been implicated in graft cases. The president's handpicked candidates for mayor in at least three other key suburbs also were losing.

Several other candidates for whom Aquino personally campaigned in the rural provinces also lagged behind in the early tallies, and candidates still loyal to deposed President Ferdinand E. Marcos were ahead in partial returns from several key northern provinces where Marcos still enjoys considerable support.

However, Aquino's choice for the the mayor of Manila, Gemiliano Lopez, was running far ahead of candidates supported both by political leaders who have broken from Aquino's ruling coalition and by the country's right-wing opposition.

"This is still a win for the president, but, realistically speaking, it is not an impressive one," said Senator Ernesto Maceda, a longtime Aquino supporter who is considered an expert in local Philippine politics. He said that in many places where Aquino personally campaigned, her appearances and endorsements were not enough to turn the tide for her candidates.

Ramon Felipe, chairman of the Elections Commission, said about 80% of the 27 million eligible voters cast ballots Monday in 62 of the Philippines' 73 provinces. Fear of violence and the army's inability to maintain order led to the cancellation of elections in the 11 other provinces; those elections will be rescheduled.

An election worker was shot dead Monday in Bacolod City, 300 miles southeast of Manila, when he tried to stop armed men from stealing ballot boxes. At least nine soldiers were reported killed and five people were wounded in three separate election-day clashes with Communist rebels.

Communist Rebels Blamed

At least 87 people, among them 39 candidates, were killed in campaigning that started Dec. 1, and the armed forces blamed most of the deaths on Communist guerrillas from the New People's Army.

Unlike all recent elections, there were no independent poll-watcher groups performing "quick counts" that would give reliable early results. Final results will not be available until Wednesday because many of the 103,000 precincts are in remote parts of the 7,100-island archipelago.

But unofficial returns compiled by the government-run Philippine News Agency and private media showed that candidates endorsed by Aquino or her "people power" coalition were leading in contests for seven governorships and six mayoral offices.

Aquino's shirttails, however, did not help either Aquino-Albert or her nephew, Vic Sumulong, who was faring poorly as a candidate for governor of Rizal province.

Candidates close to Marcos were far ahead in northern Luzon Island. Rodolfo Aguinaldo, a colonel in the Philippine Constabulary who was implicated in last August's bloody coup attempt against the Aquino government, was leading the race for governor of Cagayan province. After the attempted coup, Aguinaldo left the national police and formed a private army to fight the Communist guerrillas.

In an effort to expand her control over regions controlled either by the radical left or right, Aquino's "people power" coalition struck political alliances with candidates who are philosophically opposed to the 54-year-old president.

Among those endorsed by Aquino's ruling party were Rolando Abadilla, another Marcos loyalist and a former army colonel in jail for his role in a coup attempt last January. Abadilla, who was ahead in his race for vice governor of Ilocos Norte, Marcos' home province, has been in military custody in Manila since July but was flown by a military plane to Laoag City to cast his ballot.

There were indications that several candidates handpicked by Aquino for their honesty and administrative skills were losing to veteran politicians.

Divided Loyalties

Rodolfo Farinas, the former mayor of Laoag City and another strong supporter of Marcos, was leading by a wide margin over Manuela Ablan, 80, in the race for governor of Ilocos Norte. Ablan had the personal endorsement of Aquino and her brother, Congressman Jose Cojuangco Jr., although Ablan's son, Congressman Roque Ablan, supports Marcos and calls the former president frequently at his home in exile in Honolulu.

The military chief of staff, Gen. Fidel V. Ramos, said the slaying of the election worker in Bacolod City was among more than 20 violent incidents recorded on election day.

Condemning the violence, he said the incidents included "ballot-box snatchings," "strafings of polling places" and voter harassment. However, Ramos added, the death toll for the whole country was "really very, very low," noting that 905 people died in 1971 elections and 130 in 1980.

Aquino said that in view of the relatively little violence, "the extreme left and extreme right appeared to have lost their capability to terrorize the electorate."

The reduction in violence seemed to stem from a change of tactics by the Communist insurgents. For the first time in their 19-year war against the government, the guerrillas effectively used the elections to raise millions of dollars for arms purchases abroad and consolidated local power bases through kidnapings and selective support for hundreds of candidates, military and rebel sources said on Monday.

Ramos said the Communists viewed the elections as an opportunity to build toward an attempt to seize presidential power in 1992, when Aquino's term expires.

The Communist Party and its New People's Army are "taking a more direct hand in this local election," Ramos told one national television audience during the voting. "They are interested in presidential power in 1992, so they are building up their power base on the grass-roots level."

In separate interviews, guerrilla leaders confirmed Ramos' accusations that they had been charging candidates thousands of dollars each for "safe-conduct passes," which permitted them to campaign without being kidnaped or killed by the rebels in guerrilla zones.

One rebel leader in the Bicol province south of Manila said that his region alone had amassed more than $150,000 from candidates seeking protection. Other rebel sources estimated the total nationwide would exceed $2 million. The guerrilla leaders said the money would be spent on arms for their estimated 24,000 regulars.

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