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Lugar Will Head U.S. Poll-Watchers, Try to Keep Philippine 'Fraud to a Dull Roar'

January 25, 1986|SARA FRITZ | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Sen. Richard G. Lugar, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said Friday that he will head an official U.S. delegation to observe the Feb. 7 presidential election in the Philippines and try "to keep the fraud down to a dull roar."

The delegation, to be appointed by President Reagan within a few days, will include a bipartisan group of members of Congress as well as a number of American scholars and business leaders, according to congressional sources.

Lugar told a news conference that he agreed to head the delegation despite his "significant reservations" about the prospects for a fair election and his fears that the trip might be misinterpreted as an indication of U.S. approval of the outcome.

'To Show Our Interest'

"I have concluded that it would be a serious mistake for the United States not to demonstrate its support for democracy in the Philippines," the Indiana Republican said. "I believe that the United States should have an official presence at the election to show our interest and kinship with the Filipino people."

He added that his decision was based on the judgment of many experts that the presence of a U.S. observer team might discourage some unfair election practices. "Everybody wants to keep the fraud down to a dull roar," he said.

Lugar said that Pacifico Castro, the Philippine acting foreign minister who visited Washington for three days this week, had indicated that there would be some flexibility in the law prohibiting foreign observers from being within 150 feet of the 90,000 polling places.

For several weeks, the Reagan Administration has been pressuring Lugar and Rep. Dante B. Fascell (D-Fla.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, to be joint heads of such an observer delegation. But Fascell declined on grounds that he did not want to appear to be approving of the Philippines' election practices.

"It is fair to say that members of Congress are not beating down the doors to get on the delegation," Lugar conceded.

Seeking Other Senators

Two members, Sens. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) and Barry Goldwater (R-Ariz.), have volunteered to serve on the delegation, according to sources. In addition, Lugar was said to be seeking the participation of Sens. Nancy Landon Kassebaum (R-Kan.), Frank H. Murkowski (R-Alaska), Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.) and Claiborne Pell (D-R.I.). Pell is the ranking Democratic member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

The team also is expected to include Allen Weinstein, president of Boston University's Center for Democracy. Weinstein recently wrote a report on the Philippine elections for members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Philippine President Ferdinand E. Marcos sent a letter to Reagan last year extending an invitation to members of Congress to visit the Philippines. The letter followed a trip to Manila last October by Sen. Paul Laxalt (R-Nev.), who went as Reagan's personal envoy to urge Marcos to resolve his country's critical economic and social problems.

The election, announced by Marcos shortly after Laxalt's visit, is expected to provide the Philippine president with his toughest challenge in 20 years of rule. His opponent is Corazon Aquino, wife of slain opposition leader Benigno S. Aquino Jr.

Reasons for Doubts

Lugar said that his doubts about a fair election in the Philippines are based on a number of recent developments: the failure of the government to fill two vacancies on the elections commission; the media's apparent favoritism for Marcos; the refusal of many elderly military leaders to retire; reports of "violence and intimidation" against opposition leaders; problems with the vote-counting system, and restrictions on access to the polling places by foreign observers.

The role of the U.S. observers will be limited, Lugar noted, because they cannot visit all 90,000 polling places, interview even a fraction of the 20 million voters or witness any of the behind-the-scenes activity.

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