The rebels attacked just after midnight on Dec. 1. About 200 renegade marines captured Villamor airbase near Manila, the Philippine capital. Seizing warplanes and helicopter gunships, they bombed the presidential palace and military bases loyal to the government. By daylight, the rebels, whose ranks grew to as many as 2,000 soldiers early in the fighting, controlled two military bases, including part of Manila’s main airport. By sundown, loyalist troops, with air support from U.S. warplanes stationed nearby, appeared to have gained the upper hand. But the following day, rebel forces carried the battle into Manila’s Makati business district and fighting erupted around hotels, stores and a building that houses the Canadian Embassy. On the third day of fighting, a fierce battle raged for control of Camp Aguinaldo, the central military headquarters. Earlier, in a statement broadcast on radio, the rebels demanded President Corazon Aquino’s resignation. But a defiant Aquino appeared on national television and, refusing to negotiate with the rebels, retorted, “We leave them with two choices: to surrender or die.”
The rebellion was the most serious of six coup attempts since Aquino became president in February, 1986. After the first two days of fighting, according to the Red Cross, at least 52 people had been killed—many of them civilians—and more than 100 had been injured. Hundreds of families fled from their homes. And, despite Aquino’s defiance, the military uprising underscored her increasingly tenuous hold on power and posed a threat to democracy itself in the Philippines.
Messages of support for Aquino poured in from around the world. Prime Minister Brian Mulroney sent a telegram assuring Aquino that Canada supports “the return to democracy that you and your government represent.” A White House spokesman said that Washington would suspend aid if the Aquino government fell. U.S. officials said that American warplanes provided air cover for government troops at Aquino’s request, but did not open fire.
After fighting broke out near the 12-storey building that houses Canada’s embassy, Ambassador André Simard told Maclean’s in a
telephone interview from his residence in a nearby neighborhood that staff manning the ninth-floor embassy office were advising any of the 1,400 resident Canadians who telephoned to stay in their homes.
Philippine officials said that the uprising was led by Gregorio (Gringo) Honasan, a former army colonel who took part in the military rebellion that sparked a so-called people-power revolt. But after Aquino was confirmed in office in an election, Honasan became disenchanted with the new government and in August, 1987,
he led an abortive coup attempt. He later escaped from custody and recently threatened to strike again, claiming that Aquino was soft on the country’s Communist insurgents.
Last week’s rebellion coincided with growing popular disaffection. Despite the high hopes generated by Aquino’s rise to power, little has changed in the lives of the 30 million Filipinos—half the country’s population—who live below the poverty line. Even the Roman Catholic Church, which mobilized Manila in the 1986 revolt, has charged that human rights abuses and corruption have persisted under Aquino. After last week’s uprising, Roman Catholic Archbishop Jaime Cardinal Sin urged Filipinos “to support the duly constituted authority.” But the survival of the country’s hard-won democracy may well depend, in the long run, on improving conditions for the people.
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