Unidentified gunmen on Wednesday shot and killed three Americans, two of them active-duty military personnel and the third a retired Air Force officer, in separate ambushes all within a mile of America’s sprawling Clark Air Base north of Manila.
American and Philippine military authorities said Wednesday night that they had no clues to the identity of the killers, and details of the attacks were sketchy.
It was the first time in recent history that American military or civilian personnel have been singled out for attack in the Philippines. The killings came less than a month after leaders of the nation’s armed Communist rebellion announced a new strategy targeting “U.S. imperialism’s military installations and business empires.”
“We’re not sure who is perpetrating these crimes, but we’re taking additional security precautions. . . ,” Maj. Gen. Donald Snyder, commander of the U.S. 13th Air Force, said on armed forces television as he announced the killing of the three Americans and one Filipino civilian bystander. “We don’t know if this is the end of this incident.”
A U.S. Air Force spokesman at Clark Air Base later said all four killings took place “almost simultaneously,” and that base officials are “very concerned.”
Snyder warned all American military and civilian personnel not to travel off base. All travel was restricted between Clark and Subic Bay Naval Base, the other large U.S. military installation in the Philippines, about 70 miles southwest of Clark.
The killings occurred in mid-afternoon on major thoroughfares in Angeles City, the principal town surrounding Clark Air Base. In all three shootings, officials said, the gunmen approached their victims on foot and used .45-caliber pistols. The method and the weapon both conform to past tactics of the Communist New People’s Army urban assassination squads known as “Sparrow Units.”
One of the active-duty servicemen was killed outside a McDonalds restaurant in Angeles City; the other two Americans were shot in residential areas near the base.
U.S. military authorities here identified them as Air Force Sgt. Randy A. Davis, 30; Air Force Sgt. Steven M. Faust, 22; retired Air Force Sgt. Herculano Manganti, 60, a Filipino with American citizenship, and Filipino Joseph Porter.
The Pentagon, however, identified Faust as an airman first class from Pasadena, Tex. He served as a military policeman.
The Communists, in the most recent issue of their party organ, Ang Bayan (Our Country), sought to justify their planned attacks on U.S. facilities and personnel, saying: “U.S. imperialism is the brains behind the intensified war against the people. . . . It is the source of millions of dollars worth of weapons of death and destruction.”
It was the first time the Communists have announced that they were targeting Americans since their struggle against the government began 18 years ago, and U.S. Ambassador Nicholas Platt told reporters recently that he was taking the threat “seriously.” He added that security has been intensified around the two American bases and the U.S. Embassy,
One Philippine military source in Manila, however, speculated that Wednesday’s killings could have been the work of ultra-right death squads or renegade military officers who went underground after a failed coup attempt against President Corazon Aquino on Aug. 28.
Military intelligence sources have said the renegades’ strategy since the coup apparently has been a concerted campaign to destabilize the Aquino government through bombings and other violence.
U.S. Under Secretary of State Michael H. Armacost, who has been in Manila on an official visit since Sunday, told reporters today that the Reagan Administration is “very concerned” by the apparently deliberate and coordinated attacks on U.S. military personnel.
“We have become unhappily all too aware of these kinds of violent attacks around the world,” Armacost said at an airport press conference as he departed. But he quickly added that the attacks will not affect the bilateral agreement under which America is committed to maintaining its two bases until at least 1991.
The killings came just hours after the U.S. Embassy announced the recall of the assistant U.S. army attache to the Philippines--a statement that underscored growing anti-American sentiment in the Aquino government.
The attache, Lt. Col. Victor Raphael, has been accused in the Philippine press of aiding and abetting the bloody August coup attempt. Several published reports have quoted a confidential report by Aquino’s armed forces chief, Gen. Fidel V. Ramos, alleging that, at one point during the coup, Raphael urged loyalist forces not to attack the coup leaders, with whom Raphael had spent much of his time during the past 20 months.
In saying Raphael would be sent home “for leave and temporary duty” after three years here, the U.S. Embassy stressed that “the charges aired against him publicly are unfair and unwarranted.”
Ambassador Platt stated it even more strongly in a press conference last week, declaring that Raphael, who was seen by many Philippine military officers near rebel strongholds during the coup attempt, “was just doing his job.”
The principal task of military attaches, Platt said, is “to keep track of their military counterparts in the host government.”
Platt defended Raphael’s longstanding friendship with the coup leader, Philippine army Col. Gregorio (Gringo) Honasan, by saying that reports from such military attaches “helped our government make timely decisions as to what our policy should be.”
In Washington, State Department spokesman Charles Redman also declared that Raphael had done nothing wrong. Asked why he was recalled, Redman said, “It is very difficult to do your job in a country when this kind of charges have been circulated about you.”
Many of Aquino’s top aides and key government officials remained unmollified.
“What they (the U.S. military attaches) did stretched their functions--went beyond what they are supposed to do,” said House Speaker Ramon Mitra, who has authorized a legislative inquiry into the U.S. role in the coup when the House returns from recess Nov. 9.
At the height of Honasan’s coup attempt, a U.S. Embassy official telephoned the colonel and read him President Reagan’s official statement, which threatened a total cutoff in American aid to the Philippines if the coup succeeded.
That “definitely constitutes direct intervention,” said Blas Ople, who for 18 years was labor minister under Aquino’s predecessor, Ferdinand E. Marcos.