Philippine military officials pledged punitive action today against Communist rebels who ambushed an Army patrol, killing eight soldiers and two Filipino journalists.
One of the journalists killed was Wilfredo (Willie) Vicoy, 45, one of Asia's most renowned combat photographers. Vicoy and Pete Mabazza, a local correspondent for the Manila Bulletin newspaper, were said to have been the first journalists killed in combat in the 17-year war with the guerrillas.
The ambush marked a further escalation of attacks by insurgents at a time when President Corazon Aquino is trying to negotiate a cease-fire with them. Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile called the attacks "brazen and treacherous" and said they "shatter the call of our lady president for reconciliation."
Aquino, in a statement of condolence to the families, took a somewhat softer line, saying the killings had "dimmed but, I hope, not extinguished the prospect for a speedy reconciliation . . . "
In another development, a government statement today said President Reagan invited Aquino to visit the United States in his telephone call to her last night local time. Reagan suggested a date sometime after the U.S. elections in November, the statement said. In Los Angeles, the White House confirmed the invitation.
Aquino, who lived in the United States with her husband, Benigno Aquino Jr., during his years in political exile, said she would be "delighted to visit the States again," the statement said. Aquino talked to Reagan for about 12 minutes. Reagan congratulated her on taking office and promised to push Congress for more aid.
Philippine officials, however, also expressed annoyance that when Reagan passes through Honolulu this weekend on his way to the economic summit meeting in Tokyo, he plans to telephone former president Ferdinand Marcos, who is living in exile there.
In many Aquino supporters' eyes, any such contact by Reagan constitutes an insult to them because they view Marcos as a criminal.
The enmity grows partly from a feeling that Reagan is placing Aquino and Marcos on the same plane. It is not clear why Reagan did not make contact sooner with Aquino, who took power in February. Word of the Honolulu call is likely to be circulated by Marcos loyalists here as evidence that Reagan is supporting Marcos.
Many Aquino supporters do not trust Reagan, noting that he supported Marcos for many years before turning against him.
Yesterday's guerrilla ambush occurred about 30 miles north of Tuguegarao, capital of the northern province of Cagayan. Concealed gunmen opened fire on two jeeps carrying the journalists and soldiers after an insurgent, wearing military fatigues and apparently mistaken for a government soldier, flagged the vehicles down.
Vicoy died later in a hospital with his wife and children present. The dead soldiers included Col. Alberto Sudiacal, deputy commander of a brigade that has been fighting the insurgents.
Enrile, commenting on the attack, said: "If these people think that the military could be cowed in this manner, I think they have some surprises to come . . . . We will have to take counteraction."
At least 64 people have been reported killed in the past week in Cagayan, Enrile's home province. Some analysts, taking into account attacks in other provinces, have said the guerrillas are launching an offensive in response to Aquino's call for a cease-fire.
But the guerrillas are known to operate with local, decentralized commands. A western diplomat said the attacks may not represent an offensive but rather strikes at "targets of opportunity."
Vicoy went to work for United Press International in 1957 as a messenger and became a photographer. He worked in Vietnam from 1970 to 1975, earning a Pulitzer Prize nomination and the distinction of being the first photographer to have the same photo on the covers of Time and Newsweek magazines. The picture showed a woman holding a bloodied baby.
Vicoy said shortly before his death that Aquino had asked him to be an official presidential photographer, but he had declined, preferring news photography. A quiet man of eccentric appearance, Vicoy made a Mao cap with red star his personal trademark.
In another challenge to central government control today, about 500 people advocating the secession of the southern island of Mindanao gathered in the southern town of Cagayan de Oro, but they stopped short of declaring creation of a new state, as they had said they would. The government had warned that they would be arrested on sedition charges if they did.