MANILA — All 24 members of President Corazon Aquino's Cabinet submitted their resignations Wednesday in an effort to defuse a growing political crisis triggered by the nearly successful Aug. 28 military coup against her 18-month-old government.
Most of the Cabinet aides interviewed said the mass resignation was meant "to give the president a free hand" in restructuring her government--and as a symbolic reaction to the worst internal crisis facing Aquino since she took office.
Aquino did not indicate Wednesday which resignations she would accept or reject.
Her ruling political coalition in both the Philippine House of Representatives and the Senate, which now hold the power to approve or veto any new Cabinet appointments, loudly applauded the resignations in resolutions passed Wednesday night. Both houses called on Aquino to accept all the resignations.
The most controversial of Aquino's inner circle of advisers to tender his resignation Wednesday, Executive Secretary Joker Arroyo, called the move "routine" but added that he did not know whether he will continue to serve as the president's closest aide.
Several other Cabinet secretaries, however, along with key businessmen and influential Roman Catholic Church leaders, said that Aquino is likely to replace Arroyo and several others within the next few days. If not, the president herself will become the target of the growing political unrest, they said.
It was the second mass Cabinet resignation in the 18 months since Aquino took office after a similar, but successful, coup overthrew dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos.
Last November, amid rumors that then-Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile's military supporters were planning just such a coup, Aquino demanded the resignations of all of her Cabinet members. At first, she accepted only Enrile's resignation, but she followed that up with three others in the ensuing weeks.
Initiated by Cabinet
Sources close to the president said that this time it was the Cabinet that initiated the resignations, adding that Aquino is aware that her actions now must be far more sweeping than the three aides she removed after the first mass resignation.
"If the Aquino government is to survive, this time it must be much more drastic and dramatic," one of the resigning Cabinet members said.
Several political analysts added, however, that Aquino must seek to avoid the impression that she is caving in to the demands of the coup leaders, which could touch off a backlash from the Philippines' powerful political left.
The leaders of the Aug. 28 revolt, the bloodiest and most potent coup attempt yet against the 54-year-old president, accused the Aquino government, as well as its military leadership, of corruption and incompetence.
"Our political leadership has failed us," declared the coup leaders, who have since been labeled idealists. "We seek to remedy the vicious cycle of over-indulgence in politics without mass rewards for our society," the group added.
Rebel Sees Incompetence
Col. Gregorio (Gringo) Honasan, the acknowledged leader of the rebels who escaped when his attempt failed, added in a 15-minute taped statement delivered to broadcast stations in Manila, "Incompetence and indecision are apparent in many levels of government."
Likening Aquino to the dictator she and Honasan helped depose, the colonel added, "The incumbent administration has consciously taken the same direction as that of the then-popular Marcos administration at the start."
The rebel leaders' grievances, though, were aimed primarily at Aquino's military chief of staff, Gen. Fidel V. Ramos, and his senior commanders, and it remained unclear today whether similar resignations will come from Aquino's military leadership.
Honasan's move, which left 53 dead and hundreds injured before Ramos used the handful of tanks, artillery and light weapons at his disposal to repel the rebels' attack, has found more sympathy than criticism among Aquino's principal backers.
Called for Reforms
Instead of condemning the rebels, these supporters said the crisis should be viewed as an opportunity to correct growing ills, including corruption and government paralysis at the grass roots in the nation's towns and villages.
Powerful business leaders and respected Roman Catholic bishops in this heavily Catholic nation immediately began calling for the ouster of Arroyo, Teodoro Locsin Jr., Aquino's special presidential counsel, and several other key aides whose power to insulate Aquino in her presidential palace has earned them the nickname, cordon sanitaire.
Arroyo sought to defend himself and close ranks around the embattled Aquino government Tuesday evening in the month-old House of Representatives. His three-hour harangue, in which he named and condemned three of the country's most respected business leaders as "evil forces" guilty of "treason of the highest order," had the opposite effect.