MANILA, SEPT. 2 -- Philippine President Corazon Aquino told the nation tonight that many of the rebel soldiers who attacked her palace and took over the military headquarters building in a bloody coup attempt last Friday believed that they were on a training school mission and that they needed to participate to pass the course.

The coup leader, Col. Gregorio (Gringo) Honasan, was an instructor training recruits in techniques of counterinsurgency and unconventional warfare at Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija Province, on central Luzon island. Aquino said Honasan had told them that Friday's coup attempt was only a test.

"When we interviewed the captives . . . , we found that the enlisted men had been told that they were on a test mission," Aquino said. "Some of these rebel soldiers even had notebooks with them."

Aquino said some other rebel troops had been misled to believe that the presidential palace was under attack by the communist New People's Army.

"It is not the way of true leaders to delude their followers," Aquino said. "The lies, the deceptions they perpetrated on their soldiers put to shame the noblest tradition of the Armed Forces."

Aquino's statements, in a nationally televised speech here tonight, were intended to "set the record straight," in her words. But her speech appeared to raise as many questions as it answered. It left unclear, for example, why the rebel soldiers took so many lives -- particularly of civilians outside her palace -- if they thought that they were only being tested.

Aquino's speech came as jitters and speculation rose in the capital that another Honasan-led coup attempt was imminent. Both houses of Congress convened quickly today after reports began circulating that large numbers of troops were seen moving in Camp Aguinaldo, the armed forces headquarters. But the reports turned out to be false.

Aquino made no mention of whether the 993 enlisted men now in custody would be punished. But her statements about the rebels being "misled" appeared to indicate that the enlisted men may go free, with most of the blame for the coup attempt going to Honasan and the officers who escaped with him in a helicopter.

Honasan is still at large. Most reports place him somewhere on Luzon Island. Other military officials suggested today that he could still be in Manila. Defense Secretary Rafael Ileto said that Honasan could be leading a rebel force of as many as 2,000 soldiers in preparation for a fresh assault against the government.

Several helicopters later were sent north to investigate another report of a massive troop movement. Officials also were watching for any unusual military activity on Cebu Island, where last week a renegade general took virtual control of the civilian government.

The coup attempt has created an intense round of bickering and recrimination. Political leaders and military analysts want to know how Honasan was able to lead more than 1,000 troops into Manila without being detected, why the government assault against the rebel positions began more than 12 hours after the coup attempt started and how Honasan was able to escape.

Aquino's palace aides have accused the armed forces chief of staff, Gen. Fidel Ramos, of waffling until he was ordered by Aquino to make the attack. Ramos, in turn, has insisted that he launched the attack before receiving word from Malacanang.

On Friday Ramos told reporters that he ordered the first assault "without having to be told by anybody." But Teodoro Benigno, the presidential spokesman, said, "The orders from his commander in chief fully persuaded him he had to crack down."

In her television address, Aquino appeared almost defensive as she said that her intelligence officers had given adequate warning of the coup and that she had insisted the attack against rebel forces be launched immediately.

Aquino also related that, in the early morning hours of the uprising, she announced to her staff there would be no negotiations with the rebels. But, Aquino said, when the telephone hotline was used to try to reach Ramos, "it was dead. We tried the phones, but they were either busy or dead."

Aquino gave the first official accounting of the abortive coup's toll, saying that 53 people died. The total comprised 12 government soldiers, 19 rebels and 22 civilians. She said 57 government soldiers and 39 rebels were wounded during the daylong fighting that included a bombing run on rebel-held Camp Aguinaldo and a helicopter assault on a rebel-held hotel.

"When I ordered the attack, I knew there would be violence," Aquino said. "But I had to prevent an even greater violence."

Aquino also appeared to respond to the criticism that her military intelligence system failed to predict the coup. "Intelligence did not fail me on this occasion," Aquino said. "We anticipated a coup attempt led by these specific officers for some time now."

She said her presidential security guard units had been placed on alert and armored vehicles positioned in strategic locations before the rebels arrived at the palace.

The president's security staff also released an "After Battle Report," which outlined in detail the various plots by Honasan and his group of young officers. The report said Honasan at first had planned the coup for June 12, Independence Day, coinciding with protests by losing opposition candidates that the May 11 congressional elections were rigged. One of the opposition candidates championing that theme was Honasan's former boss, ex-defense minister Juan Ponce Enrile.

That plan was never launched, but the report said another plot was timed to disrupt the opening of the new Congress on July 27, when rebel troops were supposed to seize the Manila International Airport and Villamor Air Force Base.

At the same time, the report said, a separate group of Marcos loyalists within the Armed Forces had been planning a coup on July 27 with the help of $250,000 they allegedly received from Hawaii, where former president Ferdinand Marcos lives in exile.

The report said another group of loyalists met at a restaurant on July 14, where "topics were the CIA support for destabilization, increase of bombing missions, assassination of three unidentified American nationals {and} burning of CIA headquarters." The report gave no further details of that meeting.

Repeated questions here about possible U.S. government or CIA involvement in Honasan's coup attempt led the American Embassy to issue a statement today "categorically" denying that any American government personnel played a role.

Questions over U.S. involvement have persisted here as Filipino politicians said they are probing possible rebel links to American anticommunist mercenaries.