President Corazon Aquino on Sunday linked last week's fatal bomb explosion at the Philippine Military Academy to "terrorists" within her own armed forces and said the blast that left four dead and 43 injured was probably an attempt to assassinate her.
In one of her most forceful and angry speeches since taking power a year ago, Aquino vowed revenge on those who planted the radio-controlled bomb in the rafters of an academy grandstand, just above the spot where she delivered her address to a graduating class of 149 cadets in this northern resort town Sunday morning.
"It was a dastardly act of cowardice," Aquino declared, with as much frustration as furor in a voice frequently cracking with anger. "We will find the perpetrators."
Several hours later, in an impromptu speech at a political rally in front of Manila's downtown post office, the president said that Wednesday's explosion is still under investigation, and "it is not clear what the motives of the terrorists are."
But Aquino then linked the bombing to a series of unsuccessful attempts to overthrow or destabilize her government during the past year, all of which have been blamed on elements in the armed forces that are still loyal to deposed President Ferdinand E. Marcos.
Senior officials at the academy said Sunday that investigators are still questioning three active-duty enlisted men and an army captain who is a demolition expert in connection with the bombing, which killed three soldiers and a civilian, all of whom were due to receive awards for valor during Sunday's graduation ceremonies.
The blast occurred during a full rehearsal for Sunday's event. Investigators said the explosive device, placed in the rafters over the rostrum area where Aquino spoke Sunday, was attached to a timer and exploded prematurely.
The camp's superintendent, Brig. Gen. Rudolfo Biazon, also tied the bombing to Marcos loyalists in the armed forces during an interview with The Times on Sunday, but he said the bomb was probably meant to scare Aquino rather than kill her.
"We would have found it before it went off--I'm certain of that," he said.
Aquino declared several times Sunday that the apparent assassination attempt did not frighten her.
"I'm a woman, but I have forgotten about fear," she said at political rally for 24 candidates she is sponsoring in senatorial elections scheduled May 11. "Despite all of my enemies, you cannot scare this president. I will not back off of any threat."
'Death Holds No Fear'
Earlier, in the cool mountain air of Baguio at the Philippines' equivalent of West Point, the president told the graduating cadets: "To our enemies, let me say that nothing will intimidate this president. Death holds no fear for us, neither for the commander-in-chief nor for the soldier in the line."
And in a challenge both to the nation's armed Communist rebels and to the right-wing military factions she suspects of plotting against her, Aquino vowed to defeat both forces before her term expires in June, 1992.
She said that, with the help of loyal military officers and soldiers, she will "smite the foe, on the left and the right, and permanently end all threats to freedom before my term as president is over. This is my solemn oath."
Aquino offered no concrete solutions to either problem, however.
No Mention of Rebellion
In spite of her publicly expressed personal anger over Pentagon testimony in the U.S. House of Representatives last week criticizing her administration's lack of a comprehensive counterinsurgency policy, Aquino did not mention by name in either speech Sunday the Communist New People's Army, whose bloody rebellion has left nearly 400 Filipinos dead in the last six weeks.
Instead, she gave out medals for bravery to half a dozen soldiers who were wounded in that conflict. Most of the award recipients accepted their medals by proxy because they were among those injured in Wednesday's bombing and remain hospitalized. According to presidential aides, Aquino had insisted that Sunday's ceremonies go forward despite the casualties to demonstrate her resolve to stand up to her enemies.
The president did, however, concede frustration with what she called "the most bloody and insolent rejections by the left and the right" of "my offers of peace and reconciliation."
Aquino attempted earlier this year to negotiate a lasting peace with the rebels during a 60-day truce that ended Feb. 8, and she has, in the past, recommended lenient punishment for Marcos loyalists who have staged attempts to seize power from her.
"Such evil passes understanding," she said, referring to last week's bombing at the military academy. "I ask those who are responsible for this heinous deed: Why is it necessary to kill the innocent? Is nothing sacred any more?
"The enemies of democracy, it is obvious, simply will not play by the rules."