MANILA — In a dramatic strike against fraud in the Philippines' presidential elections, 30 data processors and computer-terminal operators walked off their jobs at the government's vote-counting center Sunday, charging that results were being altered to favor President Ferdinand E. Marcos.
The operators, many in tears, took refuge in a nearby Roman Catholic church, where about 300 supporters of opposition candidate Corazon Aquino gathered to guard them.
In a frightened voice, one of the operators, a woman in her 20s, told a group that included reporters, an American senator and several U.S. Embassy officers that she and the others rebelled after they realized that the numbers being produced by the Commission on Elections' computers did not correspond to the genuine election returns that were being fed in.
'Not the Same Values'
"The generated output was not the same values as we were inputting," she said in the jargon of her trade.
"We are nonpartisan," she said, refusing to give her name for fear of government reprisal. "We have walked out for purely professional reasons. We feel that we have been used."
The computer workers' statements were the first direct evidence that the Marcos government has tampered with its own unofficial tabulation of the vote.
Opposition spokesmen and Sen. Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.), chairman of an official U.S. delegation observing the election process, have said that they feared manipulation of the results, but previously they had no proof of actual fraud.
Marcos, asked about the operators' charges on NBC-TV's "Meet the Press," said: "We would like to see what kind of evidence they've got. All they do is scream and shout."
The operators said they took copies of the tampered data when they fled the commission's so-called "quick-count" tabulation center. They said they plan to turn the data over to an independent body.
The total number of workers engaged in tabulating results was not known, but there are about 300 computer terminals at the tabulation center.
The unofficial results given by the center have consistently given Marcos a higher percentage of the vote than the tabulation being made by the National Movement for Free Elections (NAMFREL), an independent citizens' organization.
This morning, for example, the organization's count gave Aquino 53.7% of the vote and Marcos 46.3%. The government's quick-count center gave Marcos 51.3% and Aquino 48.7%.
Account Called Credible
The computer workers' account, which the observers said was credible, cast new doubt on an election that has already been marked by many reports of vote-buying, intimidation of opposition voters and theft of ballot boxes.
The defection of the operators had an immediate and sharp effect on the U.S. observer delegation, members said.
"We're concerned by the workers who left," Lugar told a news conference this morning before leaving for Washington. "Of course we take that seriously."
"It is at the core--at the core--of what judgment can be made about this election," said Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.).
Kerry said: "These are the most damning comments I've heard. . . . It has had an enormous and very significant impact on my perceptions."
At a breakfast with reporters this morning, Col. Pedro Baraoidan, chief of the military-run National Computer Center, said the operators had worked for him "for 10 years" and charged that they were secretly "hard-core opposition," part of "a plot that had been hatched" before the count even began.
'I Was Being Set Up'
"I depended on these people, but little did I realize I was being set up," he said.
He warned that criminal charges might be brought against the technicians if they took data outside the tabulation center.
The National Computer Center is an arm of the office of the presidency and is based at Camp Aguinaldo, a major military headquarters.
It was not known what effect the incident would have on the official results of the election, which will be compiled by the Tribunal of Canvassers, a nine-member body scheduled to begin its tabulation today.
The fraud alleged by the 30 technicians concerned an unofficial tabulation designed to inform the Philippine public of the election's outcome ahead of the more time-consuming official count.
Opposition officials said they believe the government wanted to produce a "quick count" showing Marcos to be the winner to lend credibility to a possibly fraudulent official count.
The official count, which must be certified by the National Assembly, may take as long as 15 days, an assembly spokesman said.
Asked whether the alleged tampering significantly altered the unofficial tabulation, one of the striking operators said: "Yes. Not decisively, but yes."
Huddled together on two wooden pews in the Baclaran Church, a center of religious opposition to the Marcos regime, the operators said that they first noticed discrepancies in the vote count on Saturday night and began to talk among themselves about the problem.