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Roman Catholic Church Contributed to Marcos’ Downfall With AM-Philipines, Bjt

February 26, 1986 GMT

MANILA, Philippines (AP) _ The Roman Catholic Church, long at odds with authoritarian ex-President Ferdinand E. Marcos, played a key role in ending the Marcos era.

In a land where church leaders are highly respected and their opinions hold considerable sway, the participation of nuns and priests in non-violent resistance against Marcos encouraged thousands of Filipinos to take a stand.

Catholicism is a legacy of more than 300 years of Spanish colonial rule that ended at the turn of the century.

The church claims 85 percent of the 54 million people in this island nation are Roman Catholics.

Marcos and his wife were careful to cultivate the image of a devout Christian couple.

One of Marcos’ sharpest attacks against Mrs. Aquino was that she was a godless communist, a charge intended to dismay the Catholic faithful. Mrs. Aquino, a pious churchgoer, scoffed at the accusation.

The clergy’s criticism of Marcos and involvement in the campaign to end his 20-year-rule climaxed in the few days before his downfall.

On Monday, the Catholic radio station, Radio Veritas, allowed Lt. Gen. Fidel V. Ramos and Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile, the co-leaders of the military revolt, to broadcast appeals to troops to join the rebellion.

On Tuesday morning, hours before Marcos fled the country, armored personnel carriers and a truckload of soldiers confronted a praying crowd determined to prevent troops loyal to Marcos from recapturing the rebel-commandeered government television station.

A soldier aimed his rifle at a group of 15 nuns and a priest 50 feet away but, unfazed, they continued praying beside an image of the Virgin Mary. Ten minutes later, the troops turned away without a word, or a shot.

The day before, nuns had sat in front of a tank to prevent it from ramming barricades and pushing through a crowd.

Monsignor Feliciano Palma said the picture of churchmen clutching rosaries and crucifixes in the face of approaching tanks and soldiers bolstered the people’s faith and encouraged them to join the mostly peaceful protest that finally toppled Marcos.

″We’re very proud of that. It seems the Catholics are growing up,″ said Palma, the assistant secretary-general of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines.

The 104 bishops of the conference, the most powerful church body in the country, denounced the Feb. 7 election Marcos claimed to have won as ″unparalleled in fraudulence.″

Palma said he believes the bishops’ statement, read in all Catholic churches Feb. 14, ″triggered a chain reaction″ of conscience-searching among Filipinos.

Although the bishops did not name either Marcos or Mrs. Aquino, the statement reflected disillusionment and an increasingly outspoken stance.

The bishops approved Mrs. Aquino’s call on Feb. 16 for non-violent protest to drive out Marcos, and said a government that retained power through fraud had no moral basis to remain in office.

Marcos sent his wife to ask Cardinal Jaime Sin not to endorse the bishops’ stand. But the cardinal, a frequent critic of Marcos and vice president of the bishop’s organization, refused to yield.

The church’s stance in the crucial days before Marcos’ ouster provoked hostility from some quarters, including Marcos supporters, who accused the clergy of exceeding their role and interfering in politics.

Some village captains, who were the backbone of Marcos’ local political organization, suggested he imprison critical clergymen.

In a newspaper column a day after Marcos’ fall, former presidential spokesman Adrian Cristobal acknowledged that clergymen had done ″a thorough job″ of providing an anchor for popular discontent, ″even if a few bordered on unchristian hatred.″