An armed battalion of Filipino Marines confronted thousands of Aquino followers Sunday in the first such showdown since the disputed Feb. 7 elections. The Marines, wielding M-16 rifles and riding in jeeps and armed personnel carriers, retreated before a chanting crowd of nuns, students, and workers after a four-hour, nonviolent standoff near a highway in Manila.
The retreat raises serious doubts about the loyalty of the Philippines military to the beleaguered regime of President Ferdinand Marcos.
It also marks the first major victory for the civil disobedience campaign launched Feb. 15 by Corazon Aquino after she lost the Marcos-controlled vote tally in the presidential election.
``Today was a psychological battle,'' said Aquino campaign manager Ernesto Maceda. ``Marcos was testing the people.''
The Marines, wearing helmets and camouflaged fatigues, had moved out of Fort Bonifacio about midday Sunday in an attempt to enter Camp Aguinaldo (about two miles away) where Defense Minister and longtime Marcos ally Juan Ponce Enrile and Deputy Chief of Staff Fidel Ramos had resigned their posts Saturday.
The two had remained in the camp until early Sunday afternoon, when they crossed a highway into another military area, Camp Crame, with several hundred dissident officers who had joined them.
President Marcos, claiming the officers had been planning a coup against him, ordered the Marines to be within artillery range of Enrile and Ramos.
But, as the following account shows, the Marines miscalculated the resistence of the crowd, which had occupied the highway between Camps Crame and Aguinaldo in an attempt to protect Ramos and Enrile. The standoff
About 2 p.m. Sunday: As the battalion reaches the top of a hill a mile from Camp Crame, it faces dirt-bag barricades placed by Aquino followers. The Marines, joined by this reporter, turn right, crashing through a fence in hopes of flanking the crowds.