Rebel soldiers led by President Corazon Aquino's former deputy security chief mounted a rebellion in two southern cities today and announced that they will declare Mindanao island an independent state.
Aquino, in a statement after an emergency meeting with her Cabinet and leaders of Congress and the Senate, said she will crush the uprising "in due time" and appealed for help in rallying the people "against these troublemakers."
She said rebels who have tried six times to oust her are now trying to foment an uprising in Mindanao in a bid to "escalate" the rebellion to the capital.
"Adventurism and violence are no substitute to the people's will freely expressed in an election. We cannot allow our democracy to die," she said.
Renegade Col. Alexander Noble and nine truckloads of militiamen and soldiers entered Cagayan de Oro, a major city of 400,000, without resistance hours after leading 200 soldiers in the takeover of an army brigade headquarters in the logging town of Butuan, news reports said.
"The people should stay calm, there will be no bloodshed," Noble said in an interview.
But a witness in Cagayan de Oro said that loyalist forces at Camp Edilberto Evangelista, an army division headquarters in Mindanao, were prepared to battle Noble's forces.
Noble met with former Cagayan de Oro Mayor Ruben Canoy, leader of the Mindanao Independence Movement, to discuss the formation of a separate state, a radio report said.
"We hope to accomplish this within the next several days," said Noble, former deputy chief of Aquino's security force.
Mindanao is a large, southern island in the archipelago nation of the Philippines about 500 miles south of Manila.
In Manila, the armed forces chief, Gen. Renato de Villa, placed the 159,000-member armed forces under red alert--the maximum state of readiness.
Manila was calm except for a pre-dawn explosion that damaged the water pumping station at suburban Ft. Bonifacio headquarters but caused no injuries, De Villa said. It was the 40th blast in the capital blamed on rebel soldiers.
In Cagayan de Oro, schools and offices shut down. News reports said that thousands of residents followed Noble's convoy as it paraded around the city. Government forces did act immediately.
The uprising in Mindanao came amid published reports that rebel soldiers would mount a coup attempt code-named "August Moon," which under the Chinese calendar fell on Wednesday. Under that plan, rebel soldiers would take over key cities in Mindanao.
Noble said he would try and persuade troops at the camp in Butuan to join him.
A statement read over the local radio in Butuan by an officer who identified himself only as an army major said the seizure of the brigade at the edge of the airport in the logging town by 200 soldiers was the start of a "war for the liberation of Mindanao."
"Let us now sever our colonial links with Manila and usher in the dawn of a free and independent federal republic of Mindanao. Stand up and be counted among the freedom fighters."