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Keep Election Clean, U.S. Warns Marcos

December 19, 1985|DON SHANNON | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — A top Pentagon official warned Philippine President Ferdinand E. Marcos on Wednesday that a "blatantly unfair" outcome in February's presidential election would make it "almost impossible" for the Reagan Administration to ask Congress for additional aid to the Philippines.

Richard L. Armitage, assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that a corrupt election also would enhance prospects of a victory for Communist insurgents.

Opportunities for Fraud

A bipartisan panel sent by the committee to observe election preparations indicated that it found broad opportunities for fraud in the election called for Feb. 7, largely because of the short time allowed by the calling of the "snap" election far ahead of the regular 1987 presidential contest.

Allen Weinstein, a Boston University professor who headed the six-member group, advised the committee against sending official U.S. observers to watch the election unless improvements in procedures are made.

And Armitage said that if the result is clearly rigged, "the Congress would be so irate as to make it almost impossible for the Administration to come up and argue for funds for the armed forces in the Philippines or for security assistance funds."

Little Army Reform Seen

Armitage, who has urged that the Philippine army be reformed, said the results so far have been "much more form than substance" because new leadership has not appeared. He expressed disappointment that Gen. Fabian C. Ver was restored as chief of staff after his acquittal in the 1983 assassination of opposition leader Benigno S. Aquino Jr..

The election will be a crucial test for the military, and if the army "stays in its barracks and plays a constructive role, it should be recognized, applauded and encouraged," Armitage said.

Sen. Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.), the committee chairman, also noted that Ver's reinstatement casts doubt on Marcos' sincerity in carrying out reforms and he asked how the message of U.S. concern can be made clear to the Philippine leader.

Armitage replied: "Getting the message through is not a problem--getting it accepted is."

He agreed with senators who voiced fear that a fraudulent election would strengthen the Communist New People's Army and eventually jeopardize the U.S. bases in the Philippines. He said he estimates the insurgents' strength to be more than 16,500 and added that the guerrillas are showing new confidence in attacking government forces.

$300 Million Sought

The Reagan Administration requested $200 million in military aid and $100 million in economic aid for the Philippines for the current fiscal year. A Senate-House conference has cut the military total to $170 million and the economic to $79.5 million.

In the past, U.S. aid to the Philippines has been justified as "rent" for the two big military installations the Pentagon maintains there--Subic Bay Naval Base and Clark Air Base.

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