The military rushed extra troops to the presidential palace Saturday and launched a nationwide hunt for the leader of an August coup attempt after he escaped from prison.
Military leaders warned that former Lt. Col. Gregorio "Gringo" Honasan, who escaped with 14 prison guards and who remains a popular figure in the armed forces, might try to topple the government again."If he pursues his attempts to change the government and lead the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines), then we will have a problem," military spokesman Col. Oscar Florendo said Saturday. "We are asking the support of the citizens to help us. We anticipate they (the rebels) will go on with consolidation and propaganda and they will again try to divide the AFP."
Honasan, 39, escaped from a prison ship before dawn Saturday with 14 elite navy personnel who were supposed to be guarding him. He had been confined there since his arrest Dec. 9 for the Aug. 28 attempted coup, which left at least 53 people dead and hundreds wounded.
His daring escape was a blow to the prestige of the armed forces, already facing threats from communist and Moslem rebels.
President Corazon Aquino hurried back to Manila Saturday after the escape, interrupting an Easter holiday in northern Luzon for emergency meetings and a nationally televised address.
"I have instructed the chief of staff to issue a warning in unmistakable terms to all military personnel that any assistance given to the renegades will be dealt with promptly and severely with the full force of the law," she said in the address.
Mrs. Aquino, who had refused to grant amnesty to Honasan, appealed to the public for help in tracking him down. She said he fled to avoid court-martial for mutiny and sedition, arson, murder and conduct unbecoming an officer. His escape, she added, "is tantamount to an admission of his guilt."
Justice Secretary Sedfrey Ordonez hinted the government would shut down news organizations if it felt their reports in any way helped the rebels' cause. Honasan had given several interviews to local and foreign media before his arrest in a Manila suburb.
Florendo said Honasan fled from the "Andres Bonifacio" prison vessel with a navy lieutenant and 13 enlisted men. The ship was anchored in Manila Bay about 500 yards from navy headquarters.
They escaped in dinghies that had been sent to the ship to increase security after reports that Honasan would try to escape. Florendo said loyal guards fired on the fleeing boats but apparently missed.
Mrs. Aquino said the prison ship's captain had been arrested and he and members of his crew would face court-martial for negligence.
Military officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the former colonel was so popular that he had become the dominant figure aboard the vessel which was supposed to be his prison. He remains widely respected in the 160,000-member armed forces even though he has officially been dismissed from the military.
Meanwhile, the government rushed to strengthen security in and around the capital Saturday. Trucks and bulldozers blocked entrances to military camps in Manila, and mobile checkpoints were set up on roads leading north.