MANILA — Razor-wire barricades and hundreds of heavily armed navy and army combat troops guarded President Corazon Aquino's palace Monday as 10,000 students and leftists staged a protest to mark the 16th anniversary of Ferdinand E. Marcos' declaration of martial law and to condemn the weekend ambush slaying of popular leftist leader Leandro Alejandro.
Inside the palace, an angry President Aquino met with senior military commanders and later issued a three-paragraph statement declaring, "I directed the military to put an end to all forms of terrorism at the earliest possible time."
The president also demanded results from the commanders in solving the nearly one dozen prominent ambush murders in Manila alone in the last nine months, among them the Aug. 3 killing of one of Aquino's top Cabinet aides. All of the killings remain unsolved.
And Aquino demanded a report from the generals on their progress in tracking down and capturing Col. Gregorio (Gringo) Honasan, the leader of an aborted Aug. 28 coup that pushed the Aquino government into its worst crisis since she took office 18 months ago.
"I then issued additional instructions covering the entire range of threats against the republic," Aquino stated, without giving any details.
With all military and police in the capital on full alert in the aftermath of the coup and Alejandro's murder Saturday, rumors were broadcast throughout Monday that Aquino, a longtime human rights activist whose husband is believed to have been killed by the armed forces, was about to declare martial law.
Labeling such reports "a disinformation campaign," Aquino's press secretary, Teodoro Benigno, said in the evening that the subject never even came up during Aquino's lengthy meeting with her armed forces chief, Gen. Fidel V. Ramos, and all major service commanders.
"There is absolutely no basis or foundation to what is being commented upon with regards to a declaration of martial law or a state of national emergency," Benigno said. "We are all on top of the situation. There is nothing to be worried about."
Irony Not Lost
Nonetheless, widespread concern was reflected in evening news reports and the banner headlines that appeared in the afternoon newspapers. The most widely viewed nightly news report began with the words "Government in control of situation; no martial law" on the screen.
The irony of such rumors on the anniversary of Marcos' signing of a proclamation thrusting the Philippines into nine years of military rule, which left the armed forces corrupt and deeply divided, was not lost on many of the nation's newly elected legislators.
Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile, who was the country's chief martial law administrator as Marcos' minister of defense, told reporters that "it would be ironic indeed" if Aquino were to "repeat the mistakes" of the man they helped overthrow during the February, 1986, "people power" revolt.
Sen. Ernesto Maceda, a former Cabinet aide who was also fired by Aquino but remains loyal to her, added: "We have to be very, very cautious. If you declare martial law, you may have even more instability than you have now."
Leftist leaders who shouted angry speeches against Aquino during their demonstration in suburban Quezon City on Monday afternoon made it clear that the left would intensify its protests if Aquino were to make such a declaration.
Lydia Ela, Alejandro's campaign manager when he challenged the president's sister-in-law for a congressional seat in Manila last May, angrily charged that Aquino is no better than Marcos.
"Cory gives beautiful speeches, but she never keeps her promises," Ela screamed through a crude public-address system at the demonstration.
Several of the speakers repeated the statement of Alejandro's widow, street activist Lydia Alejandro, that the leftist movement holds Aquino personally responsible for the slaying, which happened less than an hour after Alejandro announced plans for Monday's protests at a press conference.
Responding to the charge, press spokesman Benigno told reporters that the president said simply that "she has always been against all forms of violence."
Armed Revolution Urged
The Communist-dominated National Democratic Front, the propaganda wing of the guerrilla force, issued a statement Monday asserting that the murder of Alejandro, who has always worked in the so-called "legal leftist groups," will serve primarily to force most street activists into the underground Communist Party or its armed force, the New People's Army.
Ramos, meanwhile, announced a sweeping shake-up involving 21 key military posts in an apparent effort to consolidate his support in the wake of the coup attempt.
Among the changes was the transfer of the armed forces spokesman, Col. Honesto Isleta, the controversial career officer who recently was likened to Hitler's chief propagandist, Joseph Goebbels, by Aquino's former executive secretary, Joker Arroyo.