"This is not martial law," Labor Secretary Franklin Drilon said of the current situation. "There's no curfew, there's no suspension of the writ of habeas corpus (a safeguard against illegal detention). Congress will continue. We will continue to enjoy our rights. It only empowers government to check those who may not be delivering basic services."
Officials said the government will also enforce new price controls on rice, flour and other basic commodities and arrest shop owners who have more than doubled the prices of pork and other foods since the crisis began.
The announcement Wednesday came shortly after an estimated 400 rebellious army Scout Rangers who had besieged the Makati district released more than 600 Americans, British, Swiss, West Germans, Japanese, Australians and other foreigners trapped there since Saturday in international hotels, luxury condominiums and high-rise offices.
Despite sporadic sniper fire, a cease-fire that went into effect at 6 a.m. Wednesday held through the day and into the night as a loyal senior officer met with the rebel field commander, Lt. Col. Rafael Galvez, to work out the agreement to end the siege. Galvez had insisted publicly that the rebels would not surrender until Aquino resigns.
"I told them their demands are non-negotiable as far as the government is concerned," said Enrile, the government negotiator and commander of the Philippine Military Academy. "And they more or less did not contradict me. Not that much anyway."
Enrile said the renegade soldiers "would like to be able to prove their point," and that he had told them they had already proved it.
Asked if he had mentioned Aquino's ultimatum Saturday that all rebel forces must "surrender or die," Enrile smiled and paused, then replied: "We have not taken that up. They have not taken it up. And I have not taken it up."
There were indications Wednesday before the agreement was announced that at least one group of rebels was willing to surrender. And four young rebels shed their rifles and fatigues and tried to slip out of the battle zone by joining foreign tourists being evacuated. The four were stopped at a police checkpoint.
The release of all foreigners defused a tense stalemate during which U.S. officials privately expressed growing unease at Aquino's apparent inability to stop the fighting in Makati's high-rise canyons. At least 77 people died in the attempted coup.
A senior U.S. Embassy official insisted at a press briefing Wednesday afternoon that Washington's confidence in Aquino is unshaken. He attempted to put the best possible face on the week's events.
"This is the sixth coup attempt," he said, "and it's got to tell you that the government has the ability to survive this kind of challenge."
But Aquino's call for U.S. help--specifically the U.S. Air Force F-4 Phantom jet fighters that pinned rebel planes on the ground last Friday, ending a string of rebel successes--continued to draw fire from Aquino's critics.
"This shows the U.S. government has the power to install and maintain a president," said Aquino's former defense secretary, Juan Ponce Enrile, now a harsh critic. "They removed Marcos and installed Aquino. She is perceived as their creation."
Even the U.S. Embassy official conceded that the cost of the crisis is likely to increase.
"The investment community is going to look at this and take a pause," he said.