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Worried Aquino Closes 3 Radio Stations

October 08, 1987|MARK FINEMAN | Times Staff Writer

MANILA — Philippine President Corazon Aquino ordered the closure Wednesday of at least three opposition-controlled radio stations and deployed army tanks around her palace after loyal military leaders reported that another, "much more serious" attempted coup will be staged against her before the end of October.

The disclosure came after a marathon series of Cabinet meetings Tuesday night and Wednesday in which the armed forces chief, Gen. Fidel V. Ramos, said the coup plot involves a powerful new "tactical alliance" between all major right-wing opposition leaders and hundreds of renegade soldiers, among them Col. Gregorio (Gringo) Honasan, who led the Aug. 28 coup attempt that nearly succeeded.

Citing military intelligence reports and "voluminous documents" seized in Tuesday night raids on five Manila hide-outs being used by the renegade troops, Ramos asserted that deposed President Ferdinand E. Marcos and his close friend, Eduardo Cojuangco, are both involved in the plot.

Several reliable government sources doubted Marcos' involvement in the plot. They speculated that the allegation was part of a government campaign to discredit the still-popular Honasan, who also helped to carry out the coup that overthrew Marcos in February, 1986.

Those same sources said, however, that Cojuangco's involvement is far more likely and that it would deepen the threat to Aquino's 19-month old government, which remains in crisis six weeks after it nearly fell to dissident soldiers.

During his Cabinet briefing Wednesday, Ramos said that Cojuangco, a once-powerful and feared Marcos aide who has been in exile in Los Angeles since the 1986 coup, is now "in a nearby country with a six-seater executive aircraft standing by to bring him back to the Philippines as part of this plot."

Cojuangco is Aquino's cousin, but there has been a long feud between his branch of the family and hers.

Ramos' assertions could not be independently verified. They were relayed during an afternoon briefing by Aquino's press secretary, Teodoro Benigno, who said Ramos described the plot as "very, very serious."

"You can bet your life that we were given the kind of briefing that made our eyes pop open," Benigno said of the Cabinet session. Specifically, he added, Aquino and her Cabinet were alarmed by "the emergence of a new, very disturbing political dimension" to the frequent rumors about coup plots.

Within hours of the Cabinet session, more than 1,000 troops backed by armored personnel carriers and tanks were deployed around Aquino's presidential palace. Soldiers were transported in garbage trucks, and several set up machine gun positions in manholes.

Honasan's Aug. 28 coup attempt, which gained considerable support in the military before Ramos crushed it with fighter planes and an artillery barrage, included an attack on the palace. Although his mutiny did not directly involve any political leaders, dissident military sources have since said that most of the right-wing political opposition supported it.

Senior officers loyal to Aquino have said privately that Cojuangco, a business magnate who built a vast personal fortune and a large private army under Marcos, may have been involved in financing the coup attempt.

Despite his exile, the Aquino government insists that Cojuangco retains control over dozens of powerful radio stations throughout the Philippines, among them the three Manila stations that the president ordered closed Wednesday.

Press Secretary Benigno said the stations were shut down because they have been "blatantly guilty of glorifying the enemies of the government."

Aquino, who was an outspoken opponent of such moves under the Marcos dictatorship, issued her orders after hearing intelligence reports that the stations had been used to launch and coordinate the coup last August and were likely to be used again.

In justifying Aquino's move, Ramon Mitra, Speaker of the Philippine House of Representatives and an Aquino supporter, told reporters, "This government is being faulted for not acting decisively . . . and it is because of its respect for human rights. Maybe, just maybe, this government is ready to move against forces that want to destroy it."

And Aquino's new executive secretary, Catalino Macaraig Jr., who replaced Aquino's controversial aide Joker Arroyo in part to satisfy demands by Honasan's military supporters, said: "These measures are not undemocratic. We have not yet moved to that stage."

Macaraig said that the next stage is the declaration of a state of emergency," if the nation's critical situation worsens.

Both Benigno and Macaraig added that most of the Cabinet members at Wednesday's meeting "were incensed" by a taped television interview with Honasan in his hiding place, broadcast Tuesday night on Manila's largest station.

In the interview, Honasan repeated his plans to continue destabilization efforts aimed at forcing Aquino to implement military and government reforms and take a harder line against the Communist insurgency.

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