MANILA — Declaring that "he won't get away with it," President Corazon Aquino filed a libel suit Monday against a popular columnist who had written that she hid under her bed during a failed coup attempt.
Offering evidence, the miffed Aquino invited several members of the Malacanang Palace press corps into the presidential bedroom. Dramatically, she walked to the bed, raised the edge of the coverlet and revealed a carpet-to-mattress wooden base.
"It was impossible for me to hide under my bed," she insisted. "I think he wants to make fun of me. . . . He won't get away with it."
Hours later, the suit was indeed filed against columnist Luis D. Beltran in a Manila court.
"I have always been a woman of courage," the president said in a statement released later. "I don't want the soldiers of the republic to even doubt for an instant that their commander in chief is a woman of courage that they can look upon and respect."
Beltran, whose column appears in the Philippine Star, told his readers in Monday's edition: "If you will recall, during the Aug. 28 coup attempt, the president hid under her bed while the firing was going on--perhaps the first commander in chief of the armed forces to do so."
Told of the president's ire and evidence, Beltran recanted in part.
"The reference to the president hiding under her bed was a figure of speech in the classical sense," he said. "It was not meant to question her courage but only to point out the fact that even as commander in chief, she was vulnerable during the . . . coup. I wasn't making fun at her--only expressing concern over the gravity of the situation.
"If I have hurt her feelings, I humbly apologize and take back what I said," Beltran remarked. "I don't think anybody can question how brave or courageous Mrs. Aquino is."
Aquino told an American television reporter last week that she was awakened by gunfire outside the presidential residence, a short distance from Malacanang Palace, when the coup attempt began. Unable to raise her security officer or top military and political aides by telephone, she and her daughters knelt on the bedroom carpet and began to say the rosary.
Fifty-three people were killed and more than 200 were wounded, including her son Benigno S. Aquino III, in the failed overthrow attempt six weeks ago. Ever since, with most of the rebel leaders still at large, Manila has experienced intermittent waves of coup jitters.
The administration continues to be tested on an almost daily basis. On Monday, labor unions began a promised weeklong series of strikes. Several thousand factory workers walked off their jobs, but attempts by leftist unionists to shut down transportation in the capital failed.
Mass rallies by striking workers were also foiled, in part by police with orders to break up illegal demonstrations. No major violence was reported, but more than 20 unionists were arrested.
The workers are seeking an across-the-board, 50-cent increase in the daily minimum factory wage, now $2.70.
"We want 10 pesos; that's just 50 cents in America," a striking paper company worker said in suburban Valenzuela as an afternoon rain drenched him and his fellow strikers.
Bills in the Philippine Congress would grant much higher percentage raises to soldiers and some other government employees. But administration officials have said the country's weak economy can afford no more than an 8-peso increase in the industrial wage.
Adding to the uneasy atmosphere Monday, three military men were shot and killed in Manila, one a former bodyguard of former Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile, Aquino's foremost political foe. A police inspector was quoted in press reports as saying the three killings appeared to be the work of Communist assassination squads.
Aquino has so far rebuffed suggestions that she is preparing to declare martial law to deal with destabilizing actions by rightist military officers and the Communist insurgents. In a radio interview Sunday night, however, she appeared to hint of such a possibility when she said she would not take emergency powers "unless it is absolutely necessary, unless it will be for the greater good of the country."