In the elaborate main reception hall at Manila's Malacanang Palace, President Ferdinand E. Marcos, 68, looked frail but basically healthy as he greeted 52 U.S. business leaders and Time Inc. journalists traveling through Asia on a Time-sponsored Newstour. Speaking calmly and firmly, Marcos called Western reports that he was near death "really exaggerated." But he made selective use of facts and figures to dismiss the concerns of U.S. analysts, blandly promising an imminent upturn in the Philippine economy and a decline in the strength of Communist insurgents. Marcos took refuge in dubious legal arguments to defend the 1973 constitution, tailored to legitimize the powers he had seized under martial law, and denied that he had used his authority to enrich a small circle of friends. Only later, at a dinner that evening, did he admit that "we have committed some errors." Excerpts from the two-hour session:
Q. Is the U.S. Government demanding more reforms of you today?
A. Well, I think that (they) are about the same as the requests made before, with some basic additions, which revolve around the insurgency problem. We are working on the implementation of some of these suggestions right now.
Q. What about the cronyism in Philippine business that we often read about?
A. If it were true that special favors were given to some of these people because they are my cronies, then they should still be here, and they should be wealthy. But who are these cronies? If there be any cronies in government, point them out and we will investigate.
Q. What did you tell Senator Laxalt?
A. Senator Laxalt brought a letter from President Reagan which contains his concern about the present situation in the Philippines, principally the insurgency problem. I outlined to him what we have done and what we intend to do, including the increase in the appropriations of the armed forces. We have now changed the policy of keeping to ourselves all the matters that have to do with operations against the Communists. Our troops are highly trained now. (The rebels) are bleeding very badly. We have been driving them from pillar to post.
Q. Is the Philippines a dictatorship?
A. My friends in the opposition have forgotten that the constitution of the Philippines was amended in 1973 with their participation. The constitution mandates the administration, including the Batasan, or legislature, to convert slowly into a semiparliamentary form of government. The President in such a situation can issue decrees and edicts. Now I discover (that) the people who recommended the parliamentary form of government are the ones complaining about this.
Incidentally, I might say that the leadership of the legislature of our majority party has often consulted with the opposition. We are now consulting with them on the passage of a new election code. It is not true that I dictate what should be done. There is a dialogue. Now you say that the situation is rigged up in my favor. Well, probably if they spend more time organizing in the provinces instead of quarreling here in Manila, then they can improve the situation.
Q. What will happen to the U.S. base agreements after the 1987 elections?