The political crisis in the Philippines entered a new and dramatic phase this weekend with an armed revolt by two of President Ferdinand Marcos's closest associates. By Sunday night the revolt had reached a standoff. Troops trying to attack the rebels were bogged down in a sea of Filipinos who massed spontaneously on the streets in their own low-key revolution.
The revolt has already done major damage to the tottering Marcos regime. The President had placed great store in the cohesion of the armed forces. This image has now been shattered, and his ability to survive is now in question. But President Marcos seems prepared to tough it out. At press time artillery had reportedly been moved within range of the headquarters of the Philippines Constabulary, where the former aides were stationed. However serious the revolt becomes, aides say, Marcos will never consider flight. (US congressmen urge Marcos to step down. Story, Page 3.)
``He'll die on his feet, if die he must,'' an aide said Saturday. ``He's not a Duvalier. If necessary -- and the analogy is not very good -- he'll do an Allende.''
The revolt by Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile and Deputy Chief of Staff Fidel Ramos erupted Saturday afternoon when the two men resigned. They told a hastily convened press conference that they believed Corazon Aquino, not Marcos, was the true winner of the Feb. 7 election. They denounced the ``illegally installed Marcos government.''
Then the two men blockaded themselves in their respective headquarters -- General Ramos in Camp Crame, the headquarters of the Philip-pine Constabulary, which he commanded, and Mr. Enrile at the Defense Ministry in the neighboring military base of Camp Aguinaldo.
In an interview Sunday morning, Enrile said that he and his officers felt Marcos should stand down. The two rebels later announced they would support a provisional government should Mrs. Aquino choose to establish one. Ramos also claimed that the majority of the 40,000-strong Constabulary had rallied to him. The rebels claimed to have received messages of support from the Roman Catholic archbishop of Manila, Jaime Cardinal Sin, and the Philippines Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the country's leading business body.
Enrile and Ramos said their revolt was precipitated by the discovery of a government plan to arrest them, along with most of opposition leader Cory Aquino's advisers, and leaders of the citizens' election watchdog group, the National Citizens' Movement for Free Elections, or Namfrel. The pretext, Enrile said in an early morning interview, was that they were planning a revolt.
The President claimed that the armed forces reform group -- a group of young officers protected by Enrile and Ramos -- had begun planning to attack the presidential palace and either kill or capture him. Both stories probably had an element of truth. Interviewed Sunday, Col. Greg Honasan, Enrile's security chief and one of the founders of the reform group, said that his group had been ``set up.'' It was, Colonel Honasan said, a ``tactical implausibility'' to attack the presidential palace, Malacaang. The forces defending the palace had, he claimed, been almost doubled in the last week. Under normal circumstances the palace is protected by the 4,000-strong Presidential Security Command.
Honasan said the latest troop movements led him and his colleagues to conclude that the government was preparing for the reimposition of some form of emergency powers. So they decided to act fast. Other groups, some of them far from sympathetic to the reform group, have recently voiced fears that Marcos would resort to emergency measures in an effort to shore up his weakened regime. These suspicions have grown with the approach of a nationwide day of protest called by Aquino for Wednesday, the day after Marcos's planned inauguration.
But another reform group leader, a young colonel in the Constabulary intelligence, remarked that ``it would not be fair to say that members of the group had never thought of a coup -- but we certainly weren't planning one now.''
A third reformist officer added that the widespread use of the armed forces to fix the Feb. 7 elections had pushed many officers ``to the limit of their endurance.''
The reform group leaders seemed in a deadly serious mood on Sunday.
``This looks like our last stand,'' said Honasan. ``But for the first time I can feel proud to wear this uniform.''
The revolt has produced two highly unlikely heroes for the opposition. Enrile, who has worked with the President since he first came to power in 1965, was the man who drafted the martial law declaration in 1972. As defense minister since then, he has until recently been one of the main targets of opposition attacks. Ramos, Marcos's cousin, drew up the operational plan for the implementation of martial law. Recently, he has been viewed by Marcos critics inside and outside the military as a relatively honest but weak and vacillating officer. Over the last three years both men have lost power to Gen. Fabian Ver, Marcos's relative, close confidant, and armed forces chief of staff.
On Sunday Ramos and Enrile were cheered and protected by a crowd of several hundred thousand opposition supporters who had gathered spontaneously outside their headquarters. At 2 p.m. Sunday afternoon Enrile, protected by several hundred elite troops, made a dash across the highway to the better-defended Camp Crame. Dressed in a military jacket which covered a bulletproof vest, Enrile paused briefly to address the crowd. As he did so a senior member of the reform group, Navy Capt. Rex Turingan, crouched in full combat gear on a platform above the minister's head, clutching a submachine gun.
Many of the demonstrators who formed a human barrier around the two bases had come as a result of appeals from the Catholic radio station Veritas, which had been broadcasting live coverage of the crisis. On Sunday afternoon, however, the station's range was severely diminished when armed men attacked and badly damaged Veritas's transmitter.
The scene in Camp Crame on Sunday afternoon bordered on the surreal. A crowd of uniformed or semi-uniformed men from elite Constabulary units milled outside the headquarters building. All were armed to the teeth: Each man in Enrile's security group wore a black combat vest from which hung an automatic pistol, ammunition, combat knife, and radio. Most also carried automatic weapons. On one side of the steps sat a group of nuns, singing hymns. A helicopter gunship hopped in and out of the camp. At the main gate, more nuns were setting up a makeshift altar next to a jeepful of special combat troops. Civilians massed outside the camp pushed food and drink through the bars of the gate.
One key actor missing from today's drama was Aquino. She had been in the southern city of Cebu at the time of the uprising, had gone briefly into hiding, and then returned to Manila Sunday afternoon. On her return she issued a mild statement. Her aides said she would visit the rebels Monday. Aquino has constantly said that Filipinos are not ready for militant street demonstrations. Sunday's events may force her to reevaluate this view.