MANILA — Philippine President Corazon Aquino appealed directly to exiled leader Ferdinand E. Marcos today to tell his loyalists still in the country not to cause any violence against the new regime.
"Let me ask Mr. Marcos that if he still has any loyalists here who intend to do the Filipinos harm . . . whatever you can do to discourage your loyalists from inflicting more harm on our people should be your concern," she said on ABC's "Good Morning America."
"Think of our country," she said to Marcos, currently staying under U.S. protection in Hawaii. "Think of your countrymen who have already been hurt, who have already suffered so much under your regime. The time is now to make amends."
She did not rule out an attempt to extradite Marcos or former armed forces chief Gen. Fabian Ver to the Philippines for possible prosecution, but she said that "for the time being, no such thing is being contemplated."
Earlier in the day, Aquino began releasing political prisoners from the Marcos regime and met with U.S. presidential envoy Philip C. Habib.
Aquino ordered the release of 39 prisoners, including an alleged member of the Central Committee of the outlawed Communist Party of the Philippines.
Newly released trade union leader Danilo Garcia, arrested on July 22, 1984, slapped himself several times outside the Bicutan army stockade and said: "It's too good to be true. I must be dreaming."
Also released were leaders of the "Light a Fire Movement," believed to be responsible for a series of terrorist bombings in 1979.
Others left behind, with raised clenched fists, sang a protest song asking Filipinos to remember freedom fighters behind barbed wire. Relatives clapped and cheered as the names of those freed were called one by one.
Aquino said on NBC's "Today" show that the releases are in line with a campaign promise to free political prisoners and will include communists who pledge to renounce violence and be loyal to her government.
Aquino press spokesman Rene Saguisag said he hopes to announce the release of "hundreds more" by Saturday. According to military records, he said, there are about 450 political prisoners in the country.
Among those released today was Mila Aquilar Roque, who is suspected of being a leader of the Communist Party of the Philippines, who said, "This is the first indication of Aquino's policy of reconciliation."
Habib, who met with Aquino before the releases began, "came to see how he could be of assistance, and to express support for the Aquino administration," a U.S. Embassy spokesman said.
State-run television said later that Habib, accompanied by U.S. Ambassador Stephen W. Bosworth, told Aquino that the Philippine people "had astonished the world with their courage."
"Pictures and television footage of nuns kneeling in the path of onrushing tanks had moved the American people and those in the highest circles of the U.S. government," the report quoted Habib as saying.