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Troops Put on Alert For Manila Demonstration

January 26, 1987

MANILA, Philippines (AP) _ Troops were placed on ″red alert″ in Manila Monday as thousands of people prepared to march on the presidential palace to protest last week’s killing by soldiers of 12 demonstrators.

Military sources reported groups of protesting farmers on Monday hauled tree trunks across roads and set fire to the wood in makeshift roadblocks along major highways in Pampanga province north and west of the capital.

Col. Miguel Fontanilla, deputy operations chief for the national police in central Luzon, said the barricades snarled traffic and prevented thousands of people from reporting to work on time.

He said troops armed with truncheons had been sent to clear the roads but were under orders to use ″maximum restraint.″

Officials of Bayan, the nation’s largest leftist organization, told reporters they would meet with President Corazon Aquino before the march but vowed to go ahead with their plans regardless of the outcome of the talks.

Brig. Gen. Romeo Zulueta, who replaced Brig. Gen. Ramon Montano as commander of the Manila region, ordered troops to arrest any ″troublemakers. ″ Soldiers were put on red alert, which means they must be ready to be deployed if needed.

Montano was placed on leave until a special presidential commission completes its investigation into the shooting of the 12 demonstrators.

About 10,000 peasants and supporters of their demands for land reform marched toward Mrs. Aquino’s office last Thursday. At Mendiola bridge near the palace, they forced a line of police to retreat. Marines behind the police fired on the protesters, killing 12 and wounding 94.

Both left- and right-wing groups condemned the ″Mendiola massacre,″ the bloodiest street clash of Mrs. Aquino’s young presidency.

The crisis comes right before a Feb. 2 plebiscite on a new constitution, which is regarded as a vote of confidence in Mrs. Aquino’s stewardship.

On Sunday, Cardinal Jaime L. Sin blamed government failures in land reform for the shooting deaths.

Teodoro Benigno, spokesman for Mrs. Aquino, said it was her 54th birthday Sunday and she spent the day with family. He said she was ″very concerned, as any president should be,″ about the planned march on Monday.

Sin, the Roman Catholic archbishop of Manila, referred to the killings in his sermon Sunday at Manila cathedral.

The cardinal played a key role in bringing Mrs. Aquino to power last February, and on Sunday he called on her to act urgently on land reform.

Mrs. Aquino has said land reform is a major goal of her government. She has proceeded slowly on the issue, however, since taking office 11 months ago after a civilian-military uprising ended the 20-year authoritarian presidency of Ferdinand E. Marcos.

Her administration has said it hopes to eventually grant land titles to about 4 million landless peasants in this country of more than 54 million.

Sin said he was not trying to lay personal blame for the killings. But he said progress Mrs. Aquino made toward national unity had been ″swiftly and senselessly diminished″ by the violence.

″We ask the government, in the wake of this tragedy, to turn its urgent attention to the issues of land reform,″ said Sin.

Most Filipinos are Roman Catholic, and the church excercises great influence.

Mrs. Aquino’s foremost opponent, former Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile, said in an interview published Sunday in the Los Angeles Times that the killings dragged the government’s international reputation lower than it was under Marcos, now in Hawaiian exile.

Enrile was interviewed while campaigning against ratifying the new constitution.

About 5,000 Marcos supporters burned copies of the draft charter at a rally in a Manila suburb Sunday.

Leandro Alejandro, secretary-general of Bayan, or Country, said 20,000 members would march to the palace. Bayan claims 2 million members nationwide.

The May 1st Movement, the largest labor union, and the Philippine Farmers Movement, which organized Thursday’s march, said they would also march, as have several student groups.

″We will march to Mendiola ... and we are determined to be able to cross the bridge,″ J.V. Bautista, a senior Bayan official, said Saturday.

Alejandro told reporters Sunday organizers would meet Mrs. Aquino before the rally to present grievances and try to convince her to let demonstrators cross Mendiola bridge to the palace gates.

″If one more rallyist or bystander is killed, then you can expect more decisive action from our end,″ Alejandro told reporters.

Asked about the march, armed forces chief of staff Fidel Ramos told reporters Sunday: ″We want to let everyone know that the policy of the military is maximum tolerance.″

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