From the April 12 / April 19, 2004 issue: John Kerry's 1986 wimp-out in the Philippines.
Apr 12, 2004, Vol. 9, No. 30 • By P.J. O'ROURKE
I'VE HAD A NONPARTISAN grudge against John Kerry for 18 years. This seems an appropriate time to air it.
In February 1986, Philippine president Ferdinand Marcos--unpleasant, unwell, and unloved--held a "snap election." This was a somewhat baffling attempt to bolster his authority by running against Corazon Aquino, widow of the opposition leader assassinated by Marcos henchmen. The American diplomatic response was baffled. Marcos was a friend of America, and U.S. military bases in the Philippines were vital to Cold War strategy. But the Philippines was being rent by popular political upheaval, Communist insurgency, Muslim unrest, and economic collapse; and a stable government was needed. But a stable government run by Marcos opponents would be angry about the support Marcos had received from his most powerful, not to say only, friend.
Not knowing what the heck to do in the Philippines, the Reagan administration sent an official election observer delegation headed by Senator Richard Lugar to do what-the-heck. Lugar said his delegation's purpose was "to demonstrate the importance to the United States of free and fair elections in the Philippines." Marcos had ruled the country, by means electoral and otherwise, since 1965. There was little likelihood that the snap election would be free and fair. Not that the U.S. delegation meant to find out. Lugar said, "Our delegation is going to the Philippines to watch and observe and not to pass judgment on the elections." Among the members of this watchful, observant, and non-judgment-passing delegation was the first-term senator from Massachusetts, John Kerry.
I was in the Philippines working on an article for Rolling Stone. The elections proceeded predictably with, as I wrote at the time, "voter-registration records being destroyed, ballot boxes stolen, opposition poll watchers barred from their stations, and army trucks full of 'flying voters' moved from one spot to another." And worse. I went to a farm village, or "barangay," about 80 miles north of Manila to interview the family of Arsenio Cainglet, barangay captain for the Cory Aquino coalition. Cainglet had been shot dead while holding his favorite fighting cock on his lap. With Cainglet's 18-year-old daughter translating, I asked the mourners at his funeral if the vote count reflected the political feelings of the village. "There was an audible collective snort. The mourners looked startled. Some of them laughed. Then they were silent."
The U.S. election observer delegation proceeded predictably, also. After a couple of hours of poll-watching on election morning, Senator Lugar told Manila's government-controlled Channel 4, "The only problems I saw were minor and technical." Channel 4 played this tape clip the rest of the day. By the next morning, Lugar was indignantly telling Tom Brokaw, "It's a very, very suspicious count." But that was not shown on Philippine TV. The members of the U.S. delegation used the words "passionate commitment of the Philippine people to democracy" so often that, shortened to "Pash Commit of Flips to Dem," it became a catch phrase among reporters.
"Anything going on in Quezon City?"
"Pash Commit of Flips to Dem."
The only plain-spoken delegate I encountered was representative John Murtha, a Pennsylvania Democrat who, I'm pleased to note, is still in Congress. He was watching a remarkable number of Marcos votes being counted in the pro-Aquino Manila suburb of Pasay. Murtha, I wrote, "tried to make some statesmanlike noises about 'the passionate commitment of the Philippine people to democracy.'...But outrage overtook him. 'You can see what's going on!' he blurted. 'You can see what the will of the people is!'"
The following is an excerpt from my Rolling Stone article, "Goons, Guns, and Gold."
Most of the Potomac Parakeets were a big disappointment. Massachusetts senator John Kerry was a founding member of the Vietnam Veterans Against the War, but he was a bath toy in this fray.
On Sunday night, two days after the election, thirty of the computer operators from COMELEC [the Philippine government "Commission on Elections," appointed by Marcos and in charge of compiling the final vote tally] walked off the job, protesting that the vote figures were being juggled. Aquino supporters and NAMFREL volunteers took the operators, most of them young women, to a church, and hundreds of people formed a protective barrier around them. [NAMFREL--The National Movement for Free Elections--was supposedly nonpartisan, but NAMFREL members were strongly anti-Marcos.]