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Killings of Americans follow signs of cooling US-Filipino ties

If Communist leaders claim responsibility for Wednesday's killing of three Americans in the Philippines, it signals an escalation of their strategy to engage the United States directly. The two active and one retired American military men were shot within 15 minutes of each other near Clark Air Base north of Manila in a style similar to communist killings in the past, Filipino officials say.

The killings follow closely a slight coolness in US-Philippine relations, a development the Communist Party could easily use to justify such a strike on Americans. That coolness in relations includes:

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On Wednesday, the US Embassy announced it was sending home a US military attach'e, Army Lt. Col. Victor Raphael, after the Philippine government made a quiet protest over his alleged involvement in the failed Aug. 28 coup attempt.

Colonel Raphael, who is a godfather to the daughter of coup leader Col. Gregorio Honasan, reportedly urged a Filipino officer not to shoot at rebel soldiers at the height of the August coup attempt. The US denies the incident, but nonetheless bowed to pressure from Aquino government officials to relieve Raphael.

Emmanuel Soriano, chairman of the the President's crisis committee, has increasingly warned of possible private or official American connections with right-wing opposition groups in the Philippines.

After the Iran-contra affair, he believes the Philippines must be careful about assuming total US support for Aquino, especially given some concern in the US government over her ability to handle the communist insurgency. There are also concerns about efforts of private US groups to support elements of the military and right-wing opposition figures.

The US has stepped up its military and economic support for Aquino following the coup attempt, highlighted this week by the delivery of 10 personnel carriers and the visit of Michael Armacost, former US ambassador to Manila and now undersecretary of state for political affairs.

Mr. Armacost was here to inform President Aquino personally that the US was speeding up the delivery of $75 million in aid promised to the Philippines.

Last month, spokesmen for the Communist Party of the Philippines warned of possible attacks on Americans at the two large US military bases here if the US was involved in any right-wing activities or coup plots.

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Ever since Aquino came to power 20 months ago, the communists have been altering their strategy to embroil the US in a war in the Philippines. They hope to bring off a Vietnamese-style revolution.

Such a strategy is risky for them, however, because many Filipinos regard America with some affection and may turn against the communists.

But in the aftermath of the August coup attempt and today's ouster of the military attach'e, the communists may have decided to take such a risk.

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