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Reagan Warns Marcos of Military Aid Cutoff : Philippine Chief Cautioned Against Attacking Rebel Troops; U.S. Might Offer Him Asylum

February 24, 1986|BOB SECTER and DON SHANNON | Times Staff Writers

WASHINGTON — President Reagan warned Philippine President Ferdinand E. Marcos on Sunday that he risks an immediate cutoff of military aid and "untold damage" to his relations with the United States if troops loyal to him attack opposition forces holed up in a military camp on the outskirts of Manila.

The warning came amid conflicting radio reports from Manila that Marcos had either left the country or was still in power and had set his troops after the mutineers.

Troops loyal to Marcos used tear gas and truncheons early today to disperse thousands of civilians surrounding a second military camp, which the rebel troops had occupied and then abandoned, and Marcos appeared on television with his family at mid-morning to show that he had not fled the country.

Briefed by Habib

Reagan and top national security advisers were briefed Sunday afternoon on Philippine developments by veteran diplomatic trouble-shooter Philip C. Habib, who had just returned from a weeklong series of discussions in Manila with Marcos, opposition presidential candidate Corazon Aquino and other prominent Filipinos.

White House spokesman Larry Speakes also indicated to reporters that the United States might be willing to grant Marcos asylum, but he stressed that the Philippine leader had not made such a request.

"The President appealed earlier today to President Marcos to avoid an attack against other elements of the Philippine armed forces," Speakes said in a statement issued after the high-level White House meeting. "Regrettably, there are now reports of an attack. An attempt to resolve this situation by force will surely result in bloodshed and casualties, further polarize Philippine society and cause untold damage to the relationship between our governments."

The statement stressed that American military aid to the Marcos government was meant only to fight Communist insurgents, not to suppress a widely backed rebellion of dissident but moderate forces such as the one launched Saturday by Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile and the deputy chief of staff of the armed forces, Lt. Gen. Fidel V. Ramos.

"We cannot continue our existing military assistance if the government uses that aid against other elements of the Philippine military which enjoy substantial popular backing," the statement continued.

Asked if Reagan planned an immediate aid cutoff in light of reports that Marcos forces had moved to retake the two camps occupied Saturday by troops loyal to Ramos and Enrile, Speakes said Reagan was assessing the situation. ". . . If he makes the determination that our military aid is being used improperly . . . being used against other Filipinos, then the aid will be stopped," Speakes explained.

Earlier in the day, top Senate Republicans for the first time flatly called on Reagan to pressure Marcos to leave the Philippines and avoid bloodshed.

The Magic Word: 'Go'

"The problem, I suppose, is finally saying the magic word, and that is 'Go'," said Sen. Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, in an interview on ABC-TV's "This Week With David Brinkley." Sen. David Durenberger (R-Minn.), chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, seconded those sentiments in an interview on NBC-TV's "Meet the Press."

But Speakes said Reagan continues to maintain that he has no right to tell Marcos to step down. "The President (Reagan) believes that an effective government in the Philippines is a matter to be determined by the Philippine people, and we would await the decision of the Philippine people on this," he said. "It's not a matter for us to say."

Also participating in the White House talks with Reagan and Habib were Vice President George Bush, Secretary of State George P. Shultz, Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger, Treasury Secretary James A. Baker, CIA Director William J. Casey, White House Chief of Staff Donald T. Regan and Gen. Paul X. Kelly, commandant of the Marine Corps.

Assessment of Crisis

Speakes said Habib provided the group with an "accurate assessment" of the political crisis in the strategic island nation, racked by mounting turmoil after a fraud-tainted Feb. 7 presidential election that Aquino charges was stolen from her. However, the White House spokesman was vague when pressed for details of Habib's report.

There is a "good" possibility that Reagan will send Habib back to the Philippines later this week to continue talks with both government and opposition forces, Speakes said.

The latest crisis was touched off Saturday when Enrile and Ramos, charging that Marcos had lost his mandate as a legitimate ruler, resigned their government positions and barricaded themselves in two military camps behind a wall of sympathetic troops and thousands of civilians called to the scene by Cardinal Jaime Sin, the Roman Catholic archbishop of Manila.

Marcos, accusing the pair of plotting to kill him, called for their surrender and threatened to capture them by force if necessary.

U.S. Embassy in Touch

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