The 220,000-strong armed forces of the Philippines today took an oath of loyalty to the interim "freedom constitution" in a bid to heal a widening rift with the government of President Corazon Aquino.

The military command sent out an order over the weekend to all major units and even outposts to hold the ceremony simultaneously at 8 a.m. today.

Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile and armed forces chief Gen. Fidel Ramos led the pledging ceremony involving 3,000 soldiers and civilian employes at military headquarters in the Manila suburbs. The troops then sang "My Nation," adopted as the theme song of Aquino's supporters in their campaign to oust president Ferdinand Marcos.

Several generals who took part in the failed coup attempt on July 6 attended the ceremony. One of them, Brig. Gen. Jose Zumel, said: "Our superiors feel there is a need to take the oath because of suspicions that are going on."

Enrile said there had been a misunderstanding that the armed forces' loyalty to the constitution was not the same as loyalty to the commander-in-chief, Aquino.

"This is not true," he said. "We are committed to defend the constitution that includes the commander-in-chief, whoever that person may be." Enrile said the pledge was "more so to the unity of the new armed forces."

Yesterday, a man identified as Steven Rodriguez was killed at the weekly gathering of Marcos' supporters after they beat and punched him on the basis that he was a backer of Aquino.

Witnesses said he died after falling and hitting his head on a rock.