Mutinous soldiers seized two southern cities Thursday without firing a shot and proclaimed an independent federal state in Mindanao, the first stage of a seventh attempt to overthrow President Corazon Aquino.
Led by renegade army Col. Alexander Noble, Aquino's former deputy chief of presidential guards, the rebels took the logging town of Butuan before dawn, marched triumphantly on to nearby Cagayan de Oro city to the cheers of thousands of residents and occupied the Armed Forces' 4th Division headquarters."This is a victory for a free Mindanao," a visibly tired Noble told reporters in the evening at Camp Edilberto Evangelista. He said the camp commander, Brig. Gen. Miguel Sol, and his men fled without resisting.
A rebel statement issued in Manila said Noble and his men "liberated" Mindanao, a mineral- and timber-rich region 500 miles south of Manila, and established the Federal Republic of Mindanao in the former U.S. colony.
"This is the first concrete step of a great historical process toward realizing a federal-parliamentary form of governance for the entire Philippine archipelago," the statement said.
It said the rebels acted to "free themselves from the vicious cycles of poverty, corruption, ignorance, apathy, anarchy and injustice."
Aquino, 57, who has survived six coup attempts since taking power in a civilian-backed military revolt in 1986, said in a statement she would crush the rebels in due time and appealed to Filipinos for support in fighting "troublemakers."
"We cannot allow our democracy to die," she said.
U.S. Ambassador Nicholas Platt issued a statement expressing unequivocal support for Aquino. "We strongly condemn any effort to destabilize the elected Philippine government in any part of the republic," he said.
An official in Manila who did not wish to be named was concerned that there was no resistance to Noble. "What is scary is not a single shot was fired."
In the capital, marine troops from nearby Bulacan province augmented security forces Thursday evening. The only incident reported was a bomb blast that damaged the water pumping station at the Fort Bonifacio. There were no casualties.
It was the 40th bombing in metropolitan Manila in two months, all blamed on rebel soldiers.
The military also announced the arrest of a rebel soldier, Capt. Diosdado Valeroso, in suburban Quezon City Thursday afternoon.
The Armed Forces chief, Gen. Renato de Villa, placed the 159,000-member armed forces under red alert - the maximum state of preparedness - and ordered loyalist troops to retake Butuan and Cagayan de Oro.
He said except for the small group of mutineers who joined Noble the armed forces was "intact" and soldiers were respecting the "chain of command."
But at nightfall, there was no indication de Villa's order was being carried out in Cagayan de Oro. Noble said 90 percent of the forces there had vowed to support him and were taking a "wait-and-see attitude."
The only reported encounter was the blasting by air force T-28 planes of a rebel helicopter at a camp in nearby Iligan city. A T-28 on a reconnaisance mission crashed in the central island of Cebu on return to base, killing its pilot.
Rebel soldiers have said their next attempt to oust Aquino would be bloodless because it would entail only a withdrawal of support for Aquino. The plan called for the takeover of key cities in Mindanao to trigger a coup attempt in Manila.