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Government: Coup Crushed, But Fighting Continues

December 4, 1989

MANILA, Philippines (AP) _ Rebel soldiers battled government troops Monday in Manila’s financial district as forces loyal to President Corazon Aquino moved against mutinous holdouts in the fourth day of the attempted coup.

On Sunday, more than 600 rebels surrendered after government units repulsed a fierce assault on the armed forces headquarters at Camp Aguinaldo. Government officials said the battle dealt a fatal blow to the uprising.

About 400 rebels also held the Mactan Air Base in Cebu, 350 miles south of Manila. Officials said they expected the Mactan rebels to surrender Monday.

At sunrise Monday, rebel snipers hiding in skyscrapers in the Makati financial district of Manila began firing at soldiers who approached their buildings.

One fireman was grazed by a bullet, and the van of a Manila radio station was hit by gunfire.

Mutineers fired at a helicopter carrying Brig. Gen. Loven Abadia, commander of the 205th Helicopter Wing, as it flew over Makati en route to central Luzon. Bullets ripped through the aircraft, wounding the pilot in the shoulder, but he was able to return to the Villamor air base and land the helicopter safely, the military reported.

The mayor of Makati, part of metropolitan Manila, appealed to the rebels to surrender.

″This thing is over,″ Mayor Jejomar Binay said in a message sent to rebel leaders. ″The best thing for your men is to lay down their arms.″

However, one rebel leader, who gave his name as ″Col. Galvez,″ told a reporter late Sunday: ″We will continue to fight until we get our political objective″ - the resignation of Mrs. Aquino.

Elsewhere, Manila was returning to normal, with government and private sector employees reporting for work.

Defense Secretary Fidel Ramos said Sunday the government had crushed the attempted coup. Mrs. Aquino ruled out a cease-fire in a nationwide television broadcast and vowed: ″What they started, we will finish.″

However, junior and middle-grade officers in several provincial commands declared their support for the rebellion, which began Friday.

Mrs. Aquino, facing her sixth coup attempt since coming to power four years ago, rejected suggestions by Cabinet members that she declare a ″state of siege,″ according to assistant Press Secretary Lourdes Sytangco. That would be tantamount to martial law.

At least 56 people have been killed and more than 500 wounded since Friday, according to hospital and Red Cross figures.

More than 10,000 people fled their homes to escape the fighting and were housed in schools, churches and other refugee centers. Many shops were closed, and garbage piled high in the streets.

Schools were closed indefinitely, but officials planned to reopen the international airport Monday. Domestic flights remained suspended.

Air force officials also said 18 of the 37 people charged in the 1983 murder of Mrs. Aquino’s husband, Benigno Aquino, remain at large after rebels released them from the stockade at Villamor air base. The rebels seized the base at the outbreak of the attempted coup and later gave it up.

Pro-government forces contained hundreds of rebels in an 11-building area in the financial district of Makati, where numerous foreign embassies are located and where many foreign diplomats and businessmen live, said military Chief of Staff Gen. Renato de Villa.

Government troops blocked off avenues leading to Makati on Sunday. Rebels fired volleys of machine-gun fire from skyscrapers and snipers shot at vehicles. Among the buildings rebels occupied was the Intercontinental Hotel.

Loyal troops responded with recoilless rifles and heavy machine guns, causing widespread damage.

A spokesman for the U.S.-run Clark Air Base said there were no American warplanes in the skies over Manila on Sunday. U.S. jets began flying cover for government troops Friday, at Mrs. Aquino’s request. But American officials said the planes ended those flights at 6 a.m. Saturday.

President Bush said Sunday in Malta that he was prepared to take additional military action to defend the Philippine government if American lives were threatened of if Mrs. Aquino requested help.

U.S. officials told Mrs. Aquino Friday they ″did not want to get into the business of killing Filipinos″ National security adviser Brent Scowcroft said Sunday in Washington on NBC-TV’s ″Meet the Press.″

He said the U.S. air cover was the ″functional equivalent″ of attacks on the rebels since it kept their planes from taking off.

Snowcroft was asked if Washington turned down a request by Mrs. Aquino to strafe rebel positions, and he said, ″We made it clear to her that we did not want to get into the business of killing Filipinos.″ The United States has six military bases in the Philippines, which are the focus of extensive opposition in the Philippines Senate and in the military, where critics say they infringe on national sovereignty.

In Cebu, government helicopters dropped leaflets urging rebels to surrender. Brig. Gen. Jose de Leon, commander of the Philippine air force, said pilots assigned to the important air base had refused to join the rebellion.

Although most provincial garrisons did not mutiny, there were indications that the rebels enjoyed support among many junior- and middle-grade officers in the provinces.

In Davao, 595 miles south of Manila, the military said mutineers tried to reach the airport Sunday but were turned back. About 38 junior officers in Davao issued a manifesto of support for the mutineers because of the ″amoral and corrupt practices of the present administration.″

Two battalion commanders and a regional intelligence chief in Iligan City, 550 miles south of Manila, resigned out of sympathy for the rebels. They vowed to come to Manila and join the uprising if Mrs. Aquino did not halt ″these senseless killings.″

Brig. Gen. Rodolfo Biazon, chief of the National Capital Region Defense Command, estimated as many as 3,000 troops joined the mutiny. Many appeared to have changed into civilian clothes and deserted.

Before dawn Sunday, the rebels pounded Camp Aguinaldo, about five miles east of Mrs. Aquino’s office, with 105mm howitzers and heavy machine-gun fire.

Rebels blasted through the gates of the sprawling camp with an armored vehicle, which was struck by ground fire. After a fierce four-hour battle, sometimes hand-to-hand, the rebels sought a cease-fire. Their commander, Maj. Cesar dela Pena, surrendered with about 200 men a few hours later.

Later Sunday, Brig. Gen. Marcelo Blando, commander of Fort Magsaysay, surrendered in the city’s Greenhills District with about 400 army soldiers and Scout Rangers, military officials said.

The mutiny was led by marines and army Scout Rangers, considered the elite of the 160,000-member armed forces.

One of the leaders was renegade Lt. Col. Gregorio ″Gringo″ Honasan, who led an August 1987 coup attempt. Honasan was once an ally of Mrs. Aquino, helping in the civilian-military uprising that brought her to power and ousted Ferdinand Marcos. But he has since turned against her and accuses her of failing to effectively deal with a Communist insurgency or the nation’s economic problems.