MANILA — A team of Americans sent by President Reagan to observe the presidential election in the Philippines concluded today that President Ferdinand E. Marcos was guilty of "efforts to undermine the integrity of that process" but said there is still a chance that a fair result can be obtained.
"Our observation of this election is by no means completed," the 20-person delegation, led by Sen. Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.), said in a joint statement before leaving for Washington. "Our prayer is that this election process will end soon with the people of the Philippines reconciled through the triumph of the democratic process."
But Lugar, in a news conference, acknowledged that a fair result was only a "small, glittering hope" in view of the widespread reports of fraud.
He said that he and Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.), the delegation's co-chairman, would make an initial report to Reagan later this week.
Lugar said the final result of the election could have a major impact on U.S. policy toward the Philippines.
"Obviously, in the event that things do not turn out well, our President is going to have to make some basic decisions," he said.
The United States provides Marcos' government with an average of more than $180 million in military and economic aid per year. Reagan said before the election that he would consider additional aid if the vote were fair.
Some Democrats in Congress, on the other hand, have called for a cut in aid. Lugar has said that he is studying a proposal by Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), another member of the observer team, to maintain aid but to put it under the control of a private foundation instead of Marcos.
While the delegation's cautiously worded statement did not directly blame Marcos for fraud, Lugar--who earlier accused the regime of "massaging" the returns--left no doubt as to where the problem lies.
"The president of this country, under the constitution, has enormous power," he said. "Those who are the authorities bear perhaps the heaviest responsibility."
He appealed to Marcos to allow an independent citizens group of poll watchers, the National Movement for a Free Election (NAMFREL), to complete its unofficial count of the votes.
Marcos aides have charged this group with fraud and have threatened to halt its count, which shows Marcos trailing opposition candidate Corazon Aquino.
But Lugar pointedly praised "the courageous citizens of NAMFREL" as "the great eyes and ears of our observation effort."
The conflict over the group thrust the Lugar delegation into the center of the election controversy here. Marcos accused the observers of meddling in domestic affairs, and several of his followers publicly castigated the Americans as "neo-colonialists."
Their fury reflected one lesson that the elections appear to have brought home to Marcos: most U.S. congressional leaders, both Republican and Democratic, believe the Philippines needs a new leader.
Accentuating the Positive
The delegation's joint statement, written by White House counsel Fred Fielding and Allen Weinstein, president of Boston University's Center for Democracy, after all-night negotiations, also emphasized the positive results of the vote, regardless of the final outcome.
"We have observed the passionate commitment of Filipinos to democracy, and we applaud that commitment," the statement said.
"We saw thousands of people standing in line patiently, often for hours, waiting to vote," it said.
But the American observers, who spanned the political spectrum from the liberal Kerry to conservative Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), witnessed a broad range of fraudulent practices that cumulatively convinced them that Marcos' conduct of Friday's vote was seriously flawed.
In travels around the 7,107 islands of the Philippines, Rep. Murtha encountered Aquino voters whose names had been mysteriously stricken from the registration lists; former Oregon Secretary of State Norma Paulus visited precincts that reported hundreds of votes for Marcos to none for Aquino, a result she denounced as "cooked," and Lugar witnessed long delays in the tabulation of the returns, which he said reflected an attempt by the regime to "manipulate the results."
Even as the delegation was debating the wording of its joint statement, Kerry, Rep. Robert Livingston (R-La.) and U.S. News and World Report publisher Mortimer Zuckerman dashed out to hear the testimony of 30 computer operators who had walked off their jobs at a government vote-counting center because they said results were being altered.
"That really turned Livingston around," a delegation aide said.
'At the Core' of the Issue
"It is at the core--at the core--of what judgment can be made about this election," Kerry said of the incident.
The only real disagreement among the observers, Lugar spokesman Mark Helmke said, was over how positive a tone the statement should take. In the end, he said, those members who wanted to put the emphasis on the encouraging aspects of the election won out--but in their individual statements, almost every observer focused more on the problems.
The U.S. statement was also echoed by a report of an international delegation led by former Colombian President Misael Pastrana and Northern Ireland Catholic leader John Hume.
That delegation, which was sponsored by the U.S. Democratic and Republican parties, found "occurrences of vote buying, intimidation and lack of respect for electoral procedures" but said it was too early to determine whether they had rendered the entire vote invalid.