MANILA — Presidential candidate Corazon Aquino refused Friday to identify her inner circle of advisers because, she said, she fears that they will be punished if she loses.
She also said her inexperience in politics may help her because Filipinos are tired of being governed by a "consummate politician."
In an interview with The Times, one of very few private interviews she has permitted during her campaign, Aquino said her decision to challenge President Ferdinand E. Marcos in the Feb. 7 presidential election was a reluctant one, but she added that she "will not be dictated to by anyone" now that she has decided to run.
"I am my own person, and in the end I alone make the decision," Aquino said, referring to charges by Marcos and his aides that her dependence on unknown advisers makes her an inexperienced and potentially dangerous candidate.
Aquino confirmed that there is a small group of men and women whom she consults on issues, and she conceded, "I'm really not a politician."
'I Make the Decision'
"I am not an arrogant person. I'm not the type that orders people around. But there are occasions when I have to tell people I am the candidate, and I have to decide this for myself.
"I consult with a lot of people, but I make the decision."
Asked why she will not reveal the names of her close advisers, Aquino said, "They will be open to all kinds of harassment if I lose." She added that the pilots who have been flying her around the country to campaign rallies have already been warned that they will lose their licenses after the election if Marcos wins.
"What if something happens to my advisers?" she said "They told me, 'You can reveal any one of us if you want,' but if something should happen to them, it would be on my conscience," she said.
Aquino added that when her husband, slain opposition leader Benigno S. Aquino Jr., was jailed by Marcos in 1972, "many people suffered simply because they were our friends or maintained ties with us."
To charges by Marcos and other critics that she is unqualified to be president because she lacks political experience, Aquino replied, "Having had Marcos, the consummate politician, for so long may be a blessing. Maybe the people are looking for something different."
Answers President's Wife
During the 20-minute interview between campaign stops Friday, Aquino also responded to allegations by Marcos' wife, Imelda, that she is "the complete opposite of what a woman should be" in the Philippines because she is running for president.
"She should talk," Aquino said, noting that the First Lady holds the appointed posts of governor of metropolitan Manila and national minister of human settlements. "At least I am doing this legitimately. I am going out and asking people to vote for me. She is a mere appendage of the president."
Aquino conceded that, as a rule, "the primary role" of Filipina women "is in the home. Although we do have quite a number that are very much out there, it's still a very small minority."
She added, though, that she hopes her candidacy will help modernize the lot of Filipina women, whose enormous power within the family traditionally is confined to a behind-the-scenes role, and said that if she wins, "I will credit this to a lot of the women. It is the women who have really come out and forced their husbands to come out with me."
Not 'a Sexist'
And Aquino said that she does not mind that gender has become an issue in the election. "They said that sex was an issue. Well, I hope it still is," she said. "I don't want to be thought of as being sexless. . . . But I do not intend to fight men. I don't want to be a sexist."
Asked whether she thinks that a woman could run an outwardly macho country like the Philippines, Aquino said only, "Let's just wait and see."
Several times during the drive between campaign appearances, Aquino said of her new role in politics, "This isn't me" and "this really isn't my type of thing." But she said her initial reluctance to run dissolved when political leaders convinced her that she was the only candidate who could unify the country's fractious opposition.
"I've psyched myself into thinking I can do this," Aquino said, as a carload of unknown supporters honked their horn, waved signs of support and reached out toward her unmarked van when they recognized her at a stoplight. "Once I decided I would run, I decided I would really give it my all."
Aquino added that, despite the difficulty of the campaign, she feels the presidency will be even more difficult.
"It's been like that my whole life," she said, recalling the hardships of her life with her husband, who first endured 7 1/2 years of solitary confinement, followed by self-exile in the United States and finally assassination.
No Death Fears
"Every time I think, 'this is positively the worst crisis ever,' something even worse happens," she said.
But she added that she has no fears of meeting a fate similar to that of her husband while campaigning so vehemently against the president.