Philippine Vice President Salvador Laurel said the return of exiled leader Ferdinand Marcos, hospitalized here in critical condition, could reconcile the Filipino people and affect the nation's political stability.

In a statement released Thursday night by his secretary, Laurel, who visited the 71-year-old Marcos without the blessing of Philippine President Corazon Aquino, said he was convinced Marcos was near death and should be allowed to come home."Whatever our past differences and conflicts, the reality is that the crisis in this man's life can seriously affect political stability of the Philippines. Now is the time for compassion and forgiveness in order to achieve much needed unity among all Filipinos," he said.

Laurel said he was called on to help by the Marcos family. The former leader also addressed a letter to Aquino asking her to allow him "to die in the Philippines."

Laurel, who left for home at 6 a.m. Friday, was asked whether he believed Marcos would ever return to his homeland dead or alive.

"That's up to her," he said, referring to Aquino.

Aquino, who has repeatedly refused to allow Marcos to return, said she had not received the letter and declined to say how she would answer his request.

"I can just make a decision once I know what the letter is all about," she told The Associated Press in Manila.

The Marcoses are under U.S. indictment for allegedly plundering his homeland of more than $100 million and stashing much of the money in the United States.

Marcos remained in critical condition in the intensive care unit of St. Francis Medical Center today, but one lawyer said he was buoyed by Laurel's visit and doctors' said his fever had subsided.

He underwent emergency surgery Wednesday because of fluids building up in his lungs, and was breathing with the assistance of a respirator.