MANILA — The kidnaping of an American missionary and 10 Filipino nuns threatened Tuesday to become a test of strength between Muslim rebels and the government of President Corazon Aquino.
Aquino denounced as blackmail the kidnapers' demand for 2 million pesos ($100,000) in ransom and challenged her military to bring law and order "once and for all" to the southern island of Mindanao.
"It is the army's turn to act decisively," Aquino said in a statement. "This festering problem has gone too far and too long. The government cannot be blackmailed, nor will it adopt a policy of appeasement toward kidnapers who have abused the military's attitude of tolerance."
Aquino demanded that the military "settle once and for all Lanao's problem of warlordism and banditry," a reference to Lanao del Sur province, where the kidnapings took place. She said the kidnapings are "a great disservice to our people . . . ostensibly to attain political ends."
Muslims Ask Autonomy
Earlier, Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile reported to the president that the Muslim rebels who abducted the Rev. Brian Lawrence, 30, of Madison, Wis., and 10 Carmelite nuns are demanding that, in addition to the ransom, the government grant full autonomy to the Muslims on Mindanao.
Enrile said the rebels' demands were delivered to the government Tuesday morning by the son of a Muslim officer who had deserted from the Philippine army. Enrile identified the officer as one of the leaders of the armed group that seized the priest and the nuns in two separate incidents Saturday night in Marawi, the spiritual center for the Philippines' 5 million Muslims. It is about 500 miles south of Manila.
Enrile said the kidnapers' leaders are commanders of the Moro National Liberation Front, an armed movement that in the mid-1970s waged a war of secession against the government of President Ferdinand E. Marcos.
The war, one of the bloodiest in the history of this overwhelmingly Catholic nation, cost an estimated 50,000 Christian and Muslim lives. Afterward, most of the rebel leaders became close allies of Marcos, who in 1976 signed a peace treaty, the Tripoli Accord, that granted the Muslims far-reaching autonomy in Muslim-majority regions of Mindanao.
Want Accord Carried Out
The rebel leaders, most of whom have remained fiercely loyal to Marcos even though he was driven from office in February, are now demanding full implementation of the Tripoli Accord, so called because it was signed in the capital of Libya.
Marcos granted political autonomy to the Muslims in 13 provinces of western Mindanao and on the island of Palawan, but neither he nor Aquino has permitted the Muslim leaders to form an autonomous Islamic army, as provided for in the agreement.
Marcos did allow several of the Muslim leaders to maintain private personal armies, but Aquino has asked the army to disarm and neutralize them.
The kidnapers demanded that a commission drafting a new Philippine constitution include provisions for both military and political autonomy for Muslims--a proposal Enrile has publicly opposed.
Earlier Tuesday, an army colonel in the area said he thought that the priest and the nuns would be released within 24 hours, but a Defense Ministry source said, "That's a bit optimistic."
In Four Groups
Military officers in the area said the victims are believed to have been separated into four groups to discourage any rescue attempt.
In his report to the president, Enrile said that Lawrence, a non-denominational priest who was working as a missionary at a university in Marawi, was kidnaped because the Muslim rebels were angry with local officials for failing to pay 20,000 pesos ($1,000) they had promised as ransom in an earlier kidnaping.
Enrile said the military has determined that the former Lanao del Sur governor, pro-Marcos Muslim Princess Tarhata Lucman, agreed to pay the ransom in exchange for the release of Father Michel de Gigord, a French priest. He said that De Gigord was freed June 25, after 20 days in captivity, and that the government agreed not to disclose the identities of the kidnapers or the details of the priest's release.
Several pro-Marcos politicians speculated that the kidnapings are an attempt by the Marcos forces to embarrass and weaken Aquino as she tries to bring stability to the country.
Lawrence is the third foreigner kidnaped by Muslim rebels in Mindanao this year, the eighth in the past eight years. All have been freed unharmed, and most without any ransom being paid. But all have been held for at least 15 days.
The rebels have also kidnaped dozens of local Filipino officials, and in recent months their leaders have threatened to escalate both the kidnapings and their attacks against the government and military in an effort to pressure Aquino into giving them greater autonomy than Marcos promised.
Complicating the government's problem in the area is the presence of several armed splinter groups that have broken off from the Moro National Liberation Front. It was one such group, Enrile said Tuesday, that abducted the priest and the nuns. He said this group is known as the "Barracudas."