Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger said yesterday that, in an effort to prevent bloodshed, the U.S. military gave "aid and comfort" to Philippine rebels protecting their urban stronghold when troops loyal to former president Ferdinand E. Marcos appeared on the verge of attack.
Weinberger was responding to news reports that helicopter gunship crews that defected from the Philippine air force were allowed to land, refuel and load ammunition at Clark Air Base, the primary U.S. airfield in the islands. Some of the defecting helicopter crews flew sentry duty over Manila's Camp Crame, where Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile and deputy chief of staff Lt. Gen. Fidel V. Ramos were holding out after breaking with Marcos.
Weinberger said that due to threats by Philippine military commanders loyal to Marcos and the presence of thousands of civilians around Camp Crame, U.S. officials deemed it "very important" to help prevent an attack.
"That would have been a very bloody scene and also would have involved all kinds of civilian deaths and casualties," Weinberger said on CBS News' "Face the Nation." "We wanted to do everything to prevent that and the presence of those helicopters over this group could well have discouraged any sort of attack.
"We were giving aid and comfort, as you say, and encouragement really, to anything that would eliminate the violence or the threat of bloodshed," Weinberger said.
Weinberger and Adm. William J. Crowe Jr., chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who appeared on NBC News' "Meet the Press," confirmed that U.S. military officials in the Philippines played an intermediary role in assisting communications between Philippine government and opposition forces during the crisis.
"We were facilitating messages back and forth between both groups to make sure they understood each other," Crowe said. "I think that was a proper and appropriate mission."
Crowe said no U.S. military power was used to aid either side, and Weinberger said U.S. intelligence capabilities in the Philippines were not shared with either side.
Weinberger, who said he now hopes to visit the Philippines during his April trip to Asia, said the new administration of President Corazon Aquino "urgently needs" more military and economic aid from the United States.