MANILA, AUG. 29 -- A bloody military rebellion against President Corazon Aquino has brought into the open the deep divisions lingering within the Philippine armed forces, while raising anew the debate here about the proper tactics for fighting a growing communist armed insurgency under a liberal, democratic government.
Although the government won wide praise here for swiftly putting down the uprising, the rebellion -- coming after a wave of communist-influenced labor strikes over an increase in fuel oil prices -- appeared to add to the general impression that after 18 months in office, Aquino is still not fully in control of the country, Filipino and foreign analysts said.
With the rebellion attracting surprisingly widespread sympathy from within the armed forces, and with the communists likely to pursue their urban campaign of assassinations and labor unrest, it seemed likely that Aquino would continue to face political threats from both the left and the right, even as she was showing signs of progress in reversing the nation's economic decline.
On the plus side for Aquino, loyalist troops managed to crush the coup attempt before the rebels could consolidate their positions. But within a few hours after the uprising began, the rebels appeared to have gained widespread sympathy from within the armed forces across the country, suggesting that Aquino must now act quickly to address some of the military's grievances or risk continuing instability in the ranks of this vital Filipino institution, according to political leaders and military analysts.
"There's no enthusiasm in the military for the Cory administration at all," said one foreign military analyst with close ties to top-ranking Filipino officers. "They just don't like her."
Another diplomat from a neighboring Asian country said, "Everything really depends on how she handles the military after this. There really are grievances she will have to address."
Most of the military's criticism of the Aquino administration, heard over and over again during visits to military camps around the country, centers on a perception that the communist insurgency has been allowed to gain ground because a liberal government committed to human rights and civil liberties has effectively tied the hands of the soldiers in the field.
It is a perception, whether exaggerated or not, born of the government's early controversial decision to release all political detainees imprisoned during the regime of deposed ruler Ferdinand Marcos -- including some top leaders of the outlawed New People's Army. At the same time, the government, as one of its early acts last year, formed a presidential commission on human rights and promised to take tough action against government soldiers who violated the civil liberties of citizens.
The deep distrust cuts both ways. Aquino and her top advisers do not like and do not trust the institution of the military, which they still hold responsible for propping up Marcos' martial law dictatorship. The military jailed Aquino's husband, opposition leader Benigno Aquino Jr., and assassinated him when he returned from exile in the United States four years ago.
On the military side, the emotional antagonism focuses on the very real concern of soldiers risking their lives battling an increasingly ruthless insurgency that ambushes military detachments in the countryside and stages daylight attacks on top officers in urban centers.
For many rank-and-file soldiers, their perception of the government as "soft" on communism is a visceral reaction to the changed, more liberal political climate in the country.
But for some of the officers who have traveled abroad or who have studied the history of Southeast Asian insurgencies, their criticisms stem from a more reasoned assessment that a successful counterinsurgency campaign requires an integrated approach using government programs to affect real changes in rural areas and undercut the appeal of communism.
Some officers also would like more freedom from the legal constraints of a liberal, democratic constitution, such as having to obtain an arrest order before picking up a known communist rebel or having to release known communists from detention if they cannot bring charges within 24 hours.
Military officers routinely complain that legal niceties should not apply when battling a shadowy underground movement committed to overthrowing the government. They note that Singapore uses its internal security act to arrest and detain suspected communists without ever having to bring them to trial, and Malaysia used similarly harsh powers during its period of communist insurrection while still under British rule.
Aquino government officials have repeatedly insisted that they will battle the insurgency within the confines of a democratic constitution.
Aquino in the past has routinely dismissed her military critics and coup plotters as "self-appointed messiahs" who are simply out to seize power for themselves while using anticommunism as subterfuge. That may be true in the case of some, such as the leaders of the latest revolt, who tasted power during the February 1986 revolt that toppled Marcos.
But such an easy dismissal does not explain the widespread sympathy the rebel leaders quickly obtained throughout the country.
The government troops were able to break the coup early -- at a time when it appeared to be gaining momentum -- by violating a time-honored tradition of their institution that soldiers do not fire on fellow soldiers. That esprit de corps has led to past mutinies being settled through long, painstaking negotiations, with mutineers almost never being punished -- fueling a widespread perception of a vacillating political and military leadership.
This time, the rebellion was put down by a massive government assault, including mortars and World War II vintage planes that strafed the rebel redoubt, an action that presidential aides said marked a significant watershed for an institution normally protective of its members. The result, however, is an even more serious rupture than previously existed.
The rebellion -- the fifth and by far the most serious coup attempt since Aquino came to power -- has posed a serious new dilemma for both the military and political leadership about punishing the rebel troops without risking a further break in the ranks.
"There were units and commands all over the country expressing sympathy for the rebellion," said one foreign diplomat who closely monitors developments in the armed forces. "You can't charge a guy just for expressing sympathy if he didn't really do anything."
There are still unanswered questions about the number of troops involved in the rebellion and how many more might have joined if it appeared the rebels would win. Teodoro Benigno, the president's spokesman, said 800 to 1,000 rebel troops converged on Manila, but it was impossible to tell how much support the rebellion gained in the outlying provinces. Mutineers seized military bases in Albay, Legaspi City and Pampanga and virtually took over the island of Cebu.
The questions of loyalty go to the root of Aquino's inability effectively to control the fractured and highly politicized military establishment that she inherited from Marcos.
The government was able to contain the rebellion in part because of the loyalty of key generals, some of whom Aquino promoted in recent weeks in an effort to get into place "my generals," as she calls them. While these loyalists helped prevent further defections, the practice of promoting officers based on loyalty has raised criticisms that Aquino, like Marcos, is using promotions for political expediency.
The coup's leader, Col. Gregorio (Gringo) Honasan, managed to escape during the air and artillery bombardment of a military camp he commandeered. Military analysts suggested that while this coup attempt is over, Honasan might link up with sympathetic soldiers elsewhere in the country for another try, possibly in the Cagayan Valley region of northern Luzon island, a stronghold of anti-Aquino sentiment.
The latest rebellion raised anew questions about the leadership and tenure of armed forces chief of staff Gen. Fidel V. Ramos, who has tried to walk a delicate line between the various military factions and the presidential palace.
While mutinous officers had called Ramos weak in the past for siding with the palace instead of his own men during uprisings, some political analysts considered him weak for precisely the opposite reason: not being tough enough in using force to crush revolts.
For example, Ramos was criticized in January when a handful of Marcos loyalist troops seized a suburban television station. Instead of launching an assault to dislodge them, Ramos negotiated for two days and ended up holding a joint press conference with the rebel leader and inviting him to "a hot breakfast."
The critics have said Ramos may have led potential coup plotters to believe they could also get away with staging revolts if they failed. But Ramos was more concerned about ordering Philippine soldiers to launch an attack on fellow soldiers -- and opening the kinds of wounds that exist today.