Coup rumors place Manila on alert

Renewed fears swept Manila yesterday as the government revealed details of a coup being plotted by a new coalition of rightist elements against the government of President Corazon Aquino. The Presidential Palace ordered the closure of three radio stations and warned a television network against airing alleged ``seditious broadcasts''.

The order came after the armed forces chief of staff, Gen. Fidel Ramos, warned the Cabinet of a possible coup attempt within the next month. This new threat, he said, would have a ``strong political dimension''.

For the first time, Malacanang Palace made the coup announcement. While it has downplayed coup rumors over the past 15 months, Malacanang said today that an alliance between underground military elements and the political opposition could be formed soon.

This new alliance, according to military intelligence, is expected to include renegade colonel Gregorio Honasan, who led the Aug. 28 coup attempt and remains at large; Col. Reynaldo Cabauatan, a Marcos loyalist, also at large; the Guardians military fraternity; and elements of the New Society Party of former President Ferninand Marcos and the Grand Alliance for Democracy, led by Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile.

The plan allegedly includes the return to the Philippines of millionaire industrialist Eduardo Cojuangco, an associate of Mr. Marcos and a cousin of President Aquino, to prepare for an eventual Marcos return. According to military intelligence, Mr. Cojuangco is in a nearby country where a six-seater plane is available to fly him in at short notice.

The allegations came on the heels of a reported alliance between Mr. Enrile and Vice-President Salvador Laurel in an opposition coalition under the Nationalista Party. Observers say the alliance between the two former Aquino allies could pave the way for a ``constitutional coup'' that would have Laurel take over government should Aquino fall or abdicate. [According to a Reuters report, Enrile denied he had formed an alliance with Laurel, but hinted he could be open to such a move.]

The radio stations ordered shut are known to broadcast rebel propaganda and pro-Marcos material. According to presidential spokesman Theodoro Benigno, the closure of the media outlets involved ``a perfect right of government to protect itself from enemies.''

The television station noted in Aquino's warning against ``seditious broadcasts'' aired an hour-long interview with Colonel Honasan Tuesday night. Looking exhausted and unkempt, Honasan implied that his forces had gained strength from the military rank and file, as well as from tactical alliances with other underground groups. While he acknowledges ``ideological differences'' with rebel military officers loyal to Marcos, like Gen. Jos'e Zumel and Col. Reynaldo Cabauatan, Honasan said: ``We are headed in the same direction.''

But this week government troops pierced Honasan's armor with the interception of a van of C-rations meant for rebel troops and the capture of some 20 soldiers and civilians said to be Honasan supporters in raids on seven hideouts in the heart of the city. One hideout was in a house near the Presidential Palace.

A high civilian official said yesterday that there have been ``intelligence breakthroughs,'' and that Honasan would be captured ``soon.''

The military leadership, however, is not as openly optimistic. Armed forces vice chief of staff Renato de Villa, commenting on the manhunt for Honasan, said on Tuesday that ``there are no desired results in sight at this time.''

Capitol Command Chief Ramon Montano told reporters that Honasan continues to elude arrest because he is being aided by ``friendly politicians and businessmen'' who provide his troops with arms, money, and shelter.

A belief held by many civilians that the military has not captured Honasan because it is ``unwilling'' to do so is fed by Honasan himself. ``This is not to downgrade the efforts of the military and police,'' he said of his noncapture, ``but everybody will be surprised at the amount of support we're getting from people whose views are not heard.''

Honasan also spoke of a ``groundswell'' among soldiers with whom he claims he has had clandestine visits in at least two camps in Manila in an effort ``to get as much feedback as possible.''

Meanwhile, Manilans live with the threat of another rebel attack on the capital. ``We will inevitably hit again,'' Honasan said, ``but we will try to minimize effects on bystanders.''

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