Aquino Approves Dropping Coup Leader From Officer Rolls
MANILA, Philippines (AP) _ President Corazon Aquino today ordered mutiny leader Col. Gregorio ″Gringo″ Honasan and 13 other officers purged from the military’s ranks for their role in the bloody Aug. 28 coup attempt.
Also today, troops backed by helicopters and naval gunboats assaulted a cluster of islands used as a hideout by pirates believed reponsible for the massacre of 14 fishermen.
And officials said the bodies of 15 people killed in a Philippine Airline plane crash last Sunday have been found.
The president told reporters she signed a recommendation by Defense Secretary Rafael Ileto to drop Honasan and the others, retroactive to Dec. 1.
She said Ileto made the suggestion because mutiny leaders had been absent without leave for 90 days as of Nov. 30. That was the cutoff date announced by Chief of Staff Gen. Fidel V. Ramos for the mutineers to surrender without immediate loss of pay and benefits.
Honasan was arrested Dec. 9 during a raid on a private home in Manila’s suburb of Pasig.
He appeared Thursday in a closed-door hearing before the Senate Defense Committee to testify on the events surrounding the coup attempt. At least 53 people were killed in the uprising and hundreds wounded, including Mrs. Aquino’s only son, Benigno III.
Honasan told the lawmakers that he was not the sole leader of the plot but was part of a collective leadership.
Mrs. Aquino said her order meant the officers would lose all pay and benefits. She added that the action was unrelated to future court cases against them. All have been charged with rebellion.
Under Philippine law, the officers can still be tried by military court martial for their roles in the mutiny even though they are no longer on active duty.
Among those dropped from the rolls were Navy Capt. Felix Turingan, the senior officer still at large after the coup attempt, and three lieutenant colonels.
In Zamboanga City, Lt. Col. Anthony Elias, spokesman for the military’s Southern Command, said troops captured seven pirates attempting to flee an island but were encountering resistance from the bandits on other islands.
He said Maj. Gen. Cesar Tapia ordered the offensive four days after a band of pirates raided a fishing village and killed 14 fishermen. No details were available on Monday’s alleged massacre.
The scene of offensive is a cluster of islets 35 miles east of Zamboanga City, a port 540 miles southeast of Manila. The area is dotted by hundreds of islands, some uncharted, used by pirates for decades as bases from where they attack fishermen and domestic shipping.
Elias said infantry and airborne army units were backed by four helicopter gunships, two World War II vintage trainer planes modified as light bombers and four navy gunboats. He said initial reports from the scene described sporadic gunfire but no casualties.
In Manila, Philippine Airlines officials said clouds of sawdust were hampering the transfer of the 15 crash victims to helicopters from a 5,000- foot mountain.
Airline spokeswoman Malou Bautista said helicopters could not land on a helipad next to the crash site on Mount Gurain, Mindanao island, because their engines were sucking up sawdust from trees cut down in the construction of the landing pad.
She said rescuers were moving the bodies of the SD-360 plane’s four crew and 11 passengers on foot from the crash site to a clearing nearly two miles away for transfer by helicopter to Iligan City.
All 15 people aboard the plane were Filipinos except for John Richard Wood, 60, of Sydney, Australia.
The plane was on a flight from the central Philippine city of Cebu to Iligan on Sunday when it crashed on the mountain, 18 miles southwest of Iligan and 505 miles southeast of Manila.
The cause of the crash has not been established, and Ms. Bautista said recovery operations, slowed down by the mountain’s rough terrain, were expected to be completed Saturday.