MANILA — Philippine Defense Secretary Rafael Ileto, a West Point-trained counterinsurgency expert, resigned from the government today, charging that President Corazon Aquino and her military advisers were not backing his strategies to reform the military and put down the country's Communist insurgency.
The insurgency, the defense secretary declared in his resignation letter, "has grown alarmingly strong because of a regime that does not address the welfare of its people."
"The survival of the nation and its people depends in large part on the strength and unity of the disciplined military men," Ileto added, reading portions of the Jan. 14 letter on government television. Ileto said he delayed his announcement to avoid influencing Monday's local elections.
Ileto's resignation clearly stunned the Aquino government, and the president had no immediate comment on who would replace the 67-year-old combat veteran, who had reluctantly joined the Aquino government in November, 1986, when the president fired Juan Ponce Enrile from the defense post.
Ileto, who is widely known as the father of the Philippine Scout Rangers, a highly effective counter-guerrilla force, met with Aquino for an hour Wednesday. Ileto's aides said the president accepted his resignation.
Rumors were raging throughout Manila this afternoon that Aquino would appoint Gen. Fidel V. Ramos, her armed forces chief of staff, to replace Ileto, but Ramos' top aides said as recently as Wednesday that he is not ready to retire from the military.
Ramos has been under pressure from several of Aquino's advisers to step down, but Aquino is indebted to him for repelling at least five attempted coups against her in the two years since she took power from Ferdinand E. Marcos.
Ileto has long been known as a dissident of conscience both within the military and the government. He was one of the few generals who opposed Marcos' declaration of martial law in 1972, and, as punishment, Marcos sent him to Iran, then Thailand, as Philippine ambassador.
During his years in Thailand, Ileto studied closely the successful Thai campaign to end a Communist insurgency, and, in recent months, he was known to be dissatisfied with the approach Ramos and Aquino were taking against the 19-year-old Philippine Communist rebellion.
The fundamental difference of opinion centered on deployment of troops in the field and methods of promotion in the armed forces.
Ileto has said he believes the most effective counterinsurgency tactic is regional saturation--deploying troops in rebel-infested zones for long periods of time to keep the rebels out. Ramos' strategy has been to move battalions frequently.
Ileto confided late last year that the test case would be in the Bicol region south of Manila, where he persuaded the armed forces to send three battalions for several months. All three were pulled out last week.