MANILA, AUG. 28 -- For the second time in seven months, residents of suburban Quezon City's tranquil West Triangle neighborhood were awakened this morning by the crackle of automatic weapons fire and the deep boom of exploding grenades.
Seven months ago, it was the takeover of Channel Seven, a private television network, by rebel soldiers. Today, it was a fierce battle for the government's Channel Four television complex.
At 3:30 a.m., when a reporter turned down the street leading to the embattled television station, a crowd of onlookers already had formed.
"Don't go up there," a Filipino man said. "There is much shooting."
Deciding to move forward, the reporter walked two blocks through the darkness. Across the street from the Channel Four compound, four Filipino journalists lay in ragged grass behind a coconut tree.
A few feet away, soldiers loyal to President Corazon Aquino huddled in the dark, hugging the wall of the compound for cover.
Without warning, a soldier squeezed several rounds from his M16 automatic rifle. Another soldier pulled the trigger, and soon the early morning was shattered by the pop of M16 rounds and the higher pitched crack of older carbines.
The soldiers appeared jittery, firing bursts of gunfire at parked vehicles outside the walled compound, puncturing the tires, and occasionally firing bursts in the general direction of the reporters, flipping the fronds of a coconut palm high overhead. There were several exchanges of grenades, exploding with an earsplitting sound and a brilliant flash of light.
Robert MacDonald, a New Zealand free-lance photographer, had barely been in the Philippines a day when the coup began. Seven months earlier, he had covered the Channel Seven siege.
Now, as three American journalists stood in predawn darkness and surveyed the silhouetted soldiers, a flurry of automatic weapons fire erupted. The reporters dived for cover, two of them flopping unceremoniously on their stomachs.
The third reporter went down on his knees, a mistake that could have been fatal, had the gunfire been aimed in his direction. When the automatic weapons were answered with grenades, the reporter quickly joined his two companions with a bellyflop onto the wet grass.
As the firing reached a din, MacDonald walked about nonchalantly, seemingly oblivious to the gunfire and grenade explosions.
After nearly an hour on their stomachs, the three American reporters took advantage of a lull to retreat back up the street to the crowd of curious whose numbers had grown and would grow throughout the day.
MacDonald followed. He wondered aloud whether he should swing by the presidential palace. As the reporters drove away, MacDonald was standing in the doorway of a waiting cab. At the last moment, he apparently decided against a trip to the palace.
He walked back up the street to cover the fighting. An hour later, a government sniper mistook the flash of MacDonald's camera for the muzzled flash of a rifle, government television reported later. MacDonald died from a gun-shot wound to his head.
The fighting took an especially heavy toll on civilians. Some of the heaviest civilian casualties occurred near the presidential palace.
As the attacking rebels battled in the streets with presidential guards, curious civilians gathered. When some of the bystanders began chanting, "Cory, Cory," the rebel soldiers turned their guns on the crowd and opened fire, a witness said later.
By afternoon, the main battlefield had shifted to the Armed Forces headquarters at Camp Aguinaldo. Government forces at Camp Crame used mortars and howitzers to pound rebel positions, while helicopters stafed and World War II-vintage aircraft bombed the mutinous troops.
Curious and festive crowds of onlookers gathered in the EDSA Highway between the opposing camps Aguinaldo and Crame. The irrepressible Philippine vendors pedaled snacks and native treats, while over the wall the battle raged and portions of Camp Aguinaldo were reduced to rubble.
With dusk falling on the capital, two government helicopters circled over the same Quezon City neighborhood where the fighting had begun hours earlier at Channel Four. They strafed the Camelot Hotel, a rundown lodging house that looks like a medieval castle, where rebel soldiers had taken refuge after losing the battle for Channel Four. Many neighborhood residents stood on their front lawns, children at their side, watching and listening to the spectacular attacks.