Coup Attempt All but Crushed

Aquino faces difficult task of unifying armed forces and tackling economic woes. PHILIPPINES

POCKETS of resistance by rebel troops in the financial district of Makati were all that remained at the end of the third day of the bloodiest siege ever mounted by military forces against the 3-year-old government of President Corazon Aquino. On Cebu island south of Manila, rebel troops who seized the international airport have sent feelers for a negotiated settlement. The crushing of the most serious armed challenge to be mounted by disgruntled elements of the military was announced by Defense Secretary Fidel Ramos yesterday, after loyal soldiers routed the last rebel marines from a residential area outside the general headquarters of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in Camp Aguinaldo.

In Makati, small bands of rebel soldiers are still being flushed out of condominium buildings, five-star hotels, department stores, and office buildings where they fled after they escaped from Fort Bonifacio, the headquarters of the Philippine Army.

``The cost certainly has been terrible,'' said Air Force Chief of Staff Renato de Villa, who counted 56 soldiers dead and 224 wounded from both sides of the battle. There were also more than 20 civilian bystanders killed and scores hurt in the crossfire.

Beside the human costs, however, there has been heavy damage to civilian property. Hundreds of families were forced to evacuate to safer grounds as the battles were fought in populated areas around military camps.

The Air Force suffered the heaviest losses in the AFP when seven aircraft in the hands of rebel soldiers were bombed by government forces at Sangley Point, a naval base south of Manila, to deprive them of aerial support.

But the greatest damage is to the armed forces itself. So far, 53 officers and 450 enlisted men from the rebel side have been either captured or surrendered.

Ironically, it is President Aquino who stands to be boosted by the attempted coup. Her popularity had slipped due to the unresolved problems of inflation and high prices, power shortages, and a severe transportation crisis, as well as charges of weakness, indecisiveness, nepotism, graft and corruption in her government.

On Saturday she called on the rebels to ``Surrender or die,'' and gave the order to ``hunt down and bring to justice the treacherous cowards who launched this attack.''

The President also said that civilians who aided the coup plotters would be ``rooted out.''

It is widely believed here that the coup was carried out by former Col. Gregorio ``Gringo'' Honasan and his former boss, Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile, two of the main figures in the February 1986 military rebellion that led to the ``people power'' revolution which removed Ferdinand Marcos from office.

At a press conference Saturday, Mr. Enrile, Marcos's last defense secretary and Aquino's first, denied involvement in the coup.

Another problem she must tackle is the issue of sovereignty. Some Filipinos, wary that the United States has declared its intention to keep its military bases in the country for as long as it can, said that President Aquino compromised Filipino sovereignty when she asked for US air support in the darkest hour of the coup.

As two US Air Force Phantom jets roared across Philippine skies on a ``persuasive mission,'' rebel resolve melted, if only momentarily, allowing the Government to retake some of its lost positions.

National Security Adviser Rafael Ileto cited the mutual defense pact between the Philippines and the US as the basis for the request.

With the quelling of the coup attempt, Aquino faces the challenge of whipping the officials of her government in line and running the affairs of the country efficiently.

It will be a difficult task given the losses brought about by the rebellion, analysts here say.

Her program to invite foreign investors into the country has been set back. And the moderate economic gains of the past 3 years are in danger of being wiped out.

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