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Manila Still Sees a Threat From Military Dissenters Despite Capture of Honasan

December 11, 1987|MARK FINEMAN | Times Staff Writer

MANILA — The Philippine government conceded Thursday that military dissent remains a threat to the nation's stability despite the arrest of coup leader Gregorio (Gringo) Honasan, and a top Cabinet official predicted more "nuisance bombings" in Manila before next Monday's regional summit of Southeast Asian leaders here.

Foreign Secretary Raul Manglapus said there are even more dangerous renegade military officers among the 90 or so who have not yet surrendered or been captured. But he insisted that their recent terrorist campaign to disrupt the summit will not succeed.

"All that these people are capable of are nuisance bombings," Manglapus said at a press conference. "They never bring down governments. . . . While it should be anticipated they may make further attempts, we don't see that they'll disrupt the summit."

Already two powerful bombs, among them the first car bomb in anyone's memory here, have exploded in Manila this week, and two more time bombs were discovered in the capital Thursday before they exploded, one in a flower box outside City Hall and the other on the campus of a small private college.

Asian Summit Called Target

Military investigators generally have attributed such incidents to renegade Lt. Col. Reynaldo Cabauatan, who helped to lead last January's siege at a Manila broadcast station and is believed to remain loyal to deposed President Ferdinand E. Marcos.

Armed Forces Chief Gen. Fidel V. Ramos and Manglapus both said the rash of terrorism is aimed directly at forcing the government to cancel next week's Assn. of Southeast Asian Nations summit, which will bring some of the region's most security-conscious leaders to Manila for two days.

The government has vowed, however, that the summit will go on as planned.

But it was clear that the government of President Corazon Aquino recognized Thursday that the most serious threat to her young government did not end with Honasan's capture Wednesday night.

In his last interview before his capture, Col. Honasan, who led a bloody Aug. 28 coup attempt against Aquino, made it clear that his group was separate from that of Cabauatan, who has been underground along with his followers since the two-day radio station siege 11 months ago.

In addition, Honasan pledged in the interview with the nation's largest-circulation daily, the Philippine Inquirer, that his own group would not take any action to upset the summit.

Dissent Called Strong

But the renegade colonel, who still enjoys considerable support in the military, also made it clear that dissent within the military remains strong and that the military has dissidents more senior in rank and more powerful than he.

When asked what his group's plans were a week before his capture, Honasan told the Inquirer, "The planning continues for non-confrontational and confrontational options outside of our group within the armed forces. It's beyond our control."

Honasan, meanwhile, retained the law firm of opposition leader Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile, who has denied involvement in the August coup attempt. Honasan was Enrile's personal chief of security when Enrile staged his successful February, 1986, revolt against Marcos. Most people in Aquino's government, which later fired Enrile as defense minister, believe he was among Honasan's political backers in August.

"It's clear that Col. Honasan could not have moved in the way he did last August without extensive political and military support," said one senior general loyal to Aquino who asked not to be identified. "Even if he is captured, the problems remain."

The military dissent is based largely on the widely held belief that Aquino is fundamentally anti-military. Her husband was arrested, held in solitary confinement for nearly eight years and then assassinated, allegedly by members of the military.

But Aquino has recognized the seriousness of her problem within the military and has won wide support among its top leaders, chief among them Gen. Ramos.

Arrest Brings Jubilation

Despite the lingering problems, though, most of Manila was jubilant after Honasan's arrest. Manila's stock markets shot up when trading opened Thursday. Reaction among newspapers and radio commentators stopped short of glee. All showed respect and deference to the former combat veteran, but they universally proclaimed his arrest a victory for the 21-month-old Aquino government.

Many analysts had seen the inability of Aquino's military to arrest Honasan as a sign of weakness in her government. Honasan exploited such opinions, waging a psychological campaign against the government by hinting that he would stage another coup. Aquino appealed to journalists to help the military find Honasan.

The president was scheduled to visit with Honasan's wife and mother Thursday night in a meeting of reconciliation.

Honasan continued to be held incommunicado by military authorities, but through videotape footage and dialogue released by the military, it was clear that he was somewhat relieved to be out of hiding after nearly four months on the run. He smiled broadly when reunited with his wife and newborn son and even appeared to be warm and relaxed in a lengthy conversation with Ramos, whom Honasan has said many times should be replaced.

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