WORLD

Manila’s threatening new storm

LIN NEUMANN September 14 1987
WORLD

Manila’s threatening new storm

LIN NEUMANN September 14 1987

Manila’s threatening new storm

PHILIPPINES

In the wake of his failed army rebellion, the man most Filipinos call Gringo was the focus of an intensive search last week. Renegade Col. Gregorio Honasan went into hiding following his Aug. 28 coup attempt, but it was clear that the threat posed to the government of President Corazon Aquino was

far from over. Indeed, the consensus among the military officers charged with restoring order after the most serious attempt to overthrow Aquino’s government was that sympathy for the rebels in the 150,000-strong armed forces of the Philippines was deep, pervasive—and perhaps even growing. One senior commander estimated that 60 per cent of the armed forces sympathized with Honasan’s stated grievances. He added, “The majority of the young officers really feel that those people in the palace just don’t give a damn.”

At week’s end, support for that view came from an unexpected quarter: Gringo himself. In a call to a Manila radio station Saturday, the fugitive accused Aquino of indifference to the military, a soft approach to Communist and Moslem guerrillas and permitting growing corruption. He claimed that her government was taking the same direction as the once-popular administration of the man she deposed 18

months ago, former president Ferdinand Marcos. Added Honasan: “This we cannot and shall not allow.”

Aquino, who came to power with the help of Honasan and many other officers now in revolt against her, seemed paralysed by the erosion of loyalty. After publicly ordering a government counterattack on the rebels last week,

she waited five days before appearing on television to deliver a matter-of-fact accounting. Aquino said that the toll had been high: 53 people dead, 22 of them civilians, more than 300 people injured and 1,033 soldiers under arrest. “I had gone to bed at midnight,” she recalled. “I woke to the sound of gunfire.” Aquino said that she refused to abandon her residence during the rebel assault on the palace compound because, “I remember what happened to my predecessor, who did not make a stand.”

Despite the close call, palace officials and the loyalist officers led by armed forces Chief of Staff Gen. Fidel Ramos were unable to present a common front. While Ramos praised his troops’ response to the crisis, Aquino’s senior adviser, Executive Secretary Joker Arroyo, publicly criticized Ramos for reacting slowly. According to Arroyo, attempts to reach Ramos on the so-called “hotline” were unsuccessful initially. In fact, say observers, Ramos hesitated for several hours be-

cause he doubted his troops’ loyalty. But Ramos was quick to respond to Honasan’s broadcast, charging that the colonel was merely out to grab power. For his part, presidential spokesman Teodoro Benigno dismissed Honasan as a “self-anointed messiah.”

Still, even defenders of the regime spoke of Honasan’s “idealistic young officers” and the likelihood that the renegades—still numbering as many as 2,000—might strike again. That threat became even more menacing when a group of officers publicly declared the creation of a provisional rebel government. The officers were members of the Reform the Armed Forces Movement (RAM), the outlawed fraternity of young elite Philippine Military Academy graduates that spearheaded both last week’s coup attempt and the 1986 revolt against Marcos. An unsigned document distributed to journalists, purportedly written by the officers, accused the Aquino government of lack of firm leadership against the 17-year-old Communist insurgency and corruption in the palace. Those same grievances were reflected in a poll taken last May—and released last week—that showed 74 per cent of military officers surveyed are demoralized by lack of government support.

Clearly taking advantage of the government’s disarray, the Communist New People’s Army attacked several military detachments on Sept. 3. The renewed violence left 91 dead—including 21 soldiers slain in one rebel ambush in Quezon province east of Manila. A day later the Manila Chronicle quoted a Communist rebel spokesman as saying that a new offensive would be launched by so-called “sparrow unit” assassination teams who have been blamed for the deaths of 50 policemen in Manila so far this year.

By week’s end, some prominent Filipinos were openly worried. Claiming that Aquino’s indecisive governing made her partially responsible for the coup crisis, wealthy businessman Fred Elizalde said, “Somebody has to persuade her that strong decisive leadership doesn’t contradict democratic principles.” And in the Manila Chronicle, respected editor Amando Doronila wrote, “Before the events of last Friday, I was confident that the Aquino government has reasonable prospects to last its full term.” But, he added, “there is nothing more suicidal than refusing to recognize the dimensions of political instability.”

LIN NEUMANN in Manila