MANILA — Philippine President Corazon Aquino announced today that she had asked her entire Cabinet to resign, and had accepted the resignation of the man who had helped her to power last February, Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile.
The president made the announcement on national television after a seven-hour Cabinet meeting held amid military moves against a possible coup attempt involving Enrile.
She warned that she would take the "sternest measures" against "reckless elements" if any action is taken against her goverment. The reference apparently was to Enrile's security force.
Aquino named Deputy Defense Minister Rafael Ileto as Enrile's successor. He is a close confidant of the president.
She said the the Cabinet resignations "will give the government a fresh start."
Aquino's announcement capped a day of increasing tension and followed an order by chief of staff, Gen. Fidel V. Ramos, to field commanders to seal off all key civilian and military installations in Manila and the rest of the country.
Without mentioning Enrile, Ramos ordered the entire military to disregard orders from Enrile's Ministry of National Defense and his heavily armed, 700-man security force, which has been the focal point of coup rumors for the past several weeks.
Ramos cited "intelligence reports" received Saturday night that military and political forces still loyal to deposed President Ferdinand E. Marcos planned to topple Aquino.
Order to Secure Facilities
Presidential Press Secretary Teodoro Benigno told reporters before the meeting that Aquino ordered the military to secure the government and church-owned radio and television stations when she heard of unusual troop movements during the night. The orders were implemented by Ramos, Benigno said.
Ramos' orders were broadcast by several of his regional commanders and confirmed by sources in Aquino's presidential palace. However, Ramos himself did not make the broadcast.
In a statement issued this afternoon, Ramos appealed for calm and warned his commanders that Communist rebels or criminal elements might launch "opportunistic attacks" amid the reports of a coup attempt. Ramos also explained that his order grew out of a "lengthy conference" in Manila with his major service commanders Saturday night. Enrile did not attend the conference.
Enrile has been quietly distancing himself in the past two weeks from his security group, headed by Col. Gregorio Honasan. In Ramos' order this morning, he specifically told his commanders to disregard orders from the outspoken colonel, who has been sharply critical of Aquino's policies.
For the first time, Ramos also declared that Enrile is no longer in the military chain of command, stating, "The Ministry of National Defense is civilian." But Enrile's political fate remained uncertain today, and ministry spokesmen were declining to comment on Ramos' order.
Allied Earlier in Year
Enrile and Ramos found themselves allies early this year when they joined forces to oust Marcos and install Aquino as president. Until that point, however, Enrile had long been known as a staunch supporter of Marcos, while Ramos was regarded as a less politically prone figure.
At the heart of the planned coup, according to Ramos' directive, was a plot by Marcos loyalists, apparently aided by dissident military factions, to reconvene the defunct National Assembly, declare invalid the Feb. 7 presidential election that led to Aquino's taking power, install as acting president the pro-Marcos former Speaker of the Assembly and call for a new presidential election.
To avert such an attempt, Ramos ordered all of his field commanders "to secure all government centers, all seats of government and radio and television stations and communication stations."
At least two other key Philippine cities were similarly secured by government troops. Gen. Domingo Rio, regional commander in Iloilo, a major city in the central Philippines, said the military had occupied all radio stations and public utilities in the region to guard against a planned coup in Manila. Rio, who announced the action over the radio this morning, said the action was taken on Ramos' orders.
Similar radio announcements were made today in Davao, the principal city on the strategic, southernmost island of Mindanao. Government and military sources had announced Friday that a group of dissident military officers was planning "some sort of attack" on the island as part of a campaign to destabilize Aquino's government.
The president's brother-in-law, Agapito Aquino, said soldiers still loyal to Marcos are behind the plot, which, he said, would attempt to exploit divisions within the heavily armed forces of the Muslim secessionist Moro National Liberation Front.
Other signs of military dissent surfaced in the central city of Cebu on Saturday morning, when 1,500 soldiers and civilians intensely loyal to Enrile staged an anti-Communist rally inside the principal military base there.