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Vote Tabulators Quit, Cite Fraud : Prelate Warns Cheating Could Split Nation

February 10, 1986|MARK FINEMAN | Times Staff Writer

MANILA — Cardinal Jaime Sin warned the Philippine government Sunday that any victory in Friday's still unresolved election, if it is built on "deceit, manipulation or terror," will tear the country apart.

Sin urged students, teachers and laborers to miss classes and work today and continue nationwide vigils at vote-counting centers throughout the nation to help guard against further cheating.

But the powerful religious leader stopped short of directly accusing Philippine President Ferdinand E. Marcos of fraud in an already tainted election that many citizens fear ultimately could strain church-state relations to the breaking point in this overwhelmingly Roman Catholic country.

'Grip of Uncertainty'

"You and I, and our whole nation, are held in the grip of uncertainty," the cardinal told the nation from the pulpit as incomplete government and independent tallies continued to conflict, two full days after what many see as the most important vote in Philippine history.

"Most of us are really at a loss as to where we must turn," Sin said.

He added that the government's persistent delays in counting the 24 million votes--delays that members of an official U.S. delegation suggested were attempts by Marcos to fix the outcome--have created a climate of "suspicion, fear, anger and frustration" throughout the Philippines.

In Washington, State Department officials declined any comment on the Philippine balloting pending the return, expected Tuesday, of Sen. Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.), who heads the U.S. delegation sent to observe the conduct of the election.

The cardinal's sermon was his first public statement since the election, which independent observers say has been stained by massive fraud, vote buying, violence and deliberate attempts at disenfranchisement by Marcos' ruling party.

Sin spoke during a Mass attended by presidential challenger Corazon Aquino, wife of assassinated opposition leader Benigno S. Aquino Jr.

Speaking Sunday at a different church, outside Manila, Aquino urged the nation to pray for a victory that she claims she already has won.

She asked her thousands of supporters in the overflowing church to pray that "we will press through the barrage of lies to win this election" in spite of conflicting returns today that showed the two contenders still locked in a tight struggle for victory.

Challenge to Marcos

In issuing his emotional call Sunday for continued vigilance and peace, Sin also challenged Marcos about an issue that has severely strained the president's relations with the Philippine Catholic Church, to which more than 85% of the nation's citizens are estimated to belong.

Reacting to allegations by Marcos that nuns, priests and members of a volunteer citizens' group broke the law Friday while policing the polls and are now manipulating returns to show Aquino in the lead, the cardinal said angrily: "I don't believe you (the poll watchers) are terrorists. You are people of peace . . . and I thank you for what you have done."

Marcos reiterated his charge Sunday during an interview in Manila broadcast on NBC-TV's "Meet the Press." This time, he specifically charged Filipino priests with "imposing penance on people who voted for me."

The president also defended the continuing delays in the counting by his handpicked election commission by saying that the election returns were delayed by high seas and swollen rivers. And Marcos said he could not heed Aquino's call Saturday for his resignation because, "once you get an order from the people to rule for six years, you don't pull out."

Aquino's supporters began appearing on Manila's streets Sunday carrying signs that read, "Marcos, Concede."

At vote-counting centers nationwide through the night and into today, thousands of priests and nuns and other members of the National Movement for Free Elections, a poll-watchers group, continued round-the-clock vigils. They recited the rosary and prayers for "justice and liberation," as they have done since soon after the polls closed Friday afternoon.

In his sermon, Sin noted that a volunteer poll watcher shot to death while guarding ballot boxes Friday was from his home island of Panay and that another volunteer who was severely beaten in Manila is one of his seminarians. He exhorted the Philippine faithful to "continue your vigilance."

"There may be harassment and difficulties, but keep calm. Do not be provoked to violence. Do not grow weary," he said.

At times, the sermon had the earmarks of a pep talk in what one leader of the poll-watchers group called "a war of nerves"--the prolonged, intense counting period. Several Aquino aides said Sunday that the delay was a ploy by Marcos to, at the least, wear down the opposition and defuse any violent protests and street demonstrations if he is declared the winner.

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