MANILA — As rumors mounted Wednesday that another coup against Philippine President Corazon Aquino was imminent, hundreds of army and marine combat troops backed by armored personnel carriers and helicopter gunships sealed off principal entrances to the capital and touched off a new round of nervousness in Manila.
When word spread that anti-government soldiers under renegade Col. Gregorio (Gringo) Honasan, leader of a coup attempt Aug. 28, were approaching Manila, troops loyal to Aquino stopped other loyalist troops on routine maneuvers. In one case, dozens of loyalist troops detained other loyalists at gunpoint until allegiances could be confirmed.
The troops were withdrawn from the streets late in the afternoon, but by then their deployment and the presence of military vehicles had touched off panic buying in stores and jammed the city's telephone lines.
Soldiers Shoot at Bus
Just before noon, hundreds of worried people called radio and police stations when five F-16 jet fighter planes buzzed Manila's bay front. The jets belonged to the U.S. Air Force's Thunderbirds team, which was putting on a long-scheduled good-will demonstration.
Jittery soldiers at one checkpoint just outside the city accidentally shot up a passenger bus when its brakes failed Wednesday morning.
Manila continues to be what one columnist has dubbed "jitter city" more than a month after Honasan's nearly successful attempt to overthrow Aquino 18 months after he helped lead a successful revolt against President Ferdinand E. Marcos.
Conceding that the nation has yet to stabilize in the aftermath of the mutiny, Gen. Fidel V. Ramos, the armed forces chief, spoke Wednesday at one provincial camp, telling soldiers who joined the August rebellion that "for as long as our country is not stable, economic recovery will not be attained." Ramos appealed to the armed forces "to close ranks and help the government attain stability."
The latest jitters set in after more than 100,000 leftist mourners waved red banners and black ribbons throughout the city Tuesday as they staged a 16-mile funeral protest march behind the coffin of slain anti-government street activist Leandro Alejandro.
All such recent shows of force by the political left have brought a response from armed rightists and military renegades, and a series of what the armed forces called "unauthorized troop movements" immediately after the funeral led to the massive military deployment around Manila.
Col. Emiliano Templo, chief of staff of the Capital Regional Command, spoke to the public Wednesday on the radio. Referring to Gen. Ramon Montano, head of a new anti-coup force, Templo said: "To avoid what happened on Aug. 28, Gen. Montano took immediate security measures so that if there really was any movement, they would not be able to enter Manila and the confrontation would be outside.
"Please do not panic. If you have any question about what is happening, call your nearest police station. Don't listen to rumors."
Honasan's Aug. 28 mutiny led to scores of deaths and hundreds of injuries before Ramos ordered an air and artillery strike on the mutinous troops' stronghold in a Manila military base. Loyalist forces have been unable to find Honasan and his men, most of whom are believed to be in Manila hide-outs.
Called Aquino Communist
Ramos' concern Wednesday reportedly deepened after intelligence officers learned that military police Col. Reynaldo Cabauatan, who took part in a coup attempt last January, held a press conference Tuesday night in Manila's business district of Makati.
Dozens of journalists were invited to the press conference in a high-rise office building, but Defense Minister Rafael Ileto was quoted Wednesday as saying that, by the time the military learned of it, Cabauatan had finished with the media and escaped.
Appearing in sunglasses and wearing a black fur fez bearing an inverted Philippine flag that was the emblem of Honasan's rebel troops, Cabauatan accused Aquino of being a Communist and urged the 155,000-member armed forces to renounce her and Ramos and join the rebels.
Many analysts suspect Cabauatan and a fellow renegade, Gen. Jose Zumel, in the Sept. 19 slaying of Alejandro, who was ambushed and killed by gunmen an hour after he announced plans for protests against Aquino's allegedly rightist policies. In his press conference Tuesday, Cabauatan came close to confirming such suspicions.
"We will use violence to destroy violent people," the colonel said.
Cabauatan and about 300 soldiers are still at large after trying last January to seize a Manila television station. That mutiny is widely attributed to troops still loyal to Marcos.
Cabauatan, a Marcos supporter, denied that he has forged an alliance with Honasan, but military intelligence agents told The Times that Cabauatan and Zumel have joined forces with Lt. Col. Reynaldo Berroya, who did join Honasan in the latest coup attempt.
But the renegade Cabauatan added, "I'm sure that when we move, Col. Honasan will be supportive."