A Marine battalion was dispatched to a southern port city Friday amid reports mutineers were attempting to regroup for another uprising and proclaim an independent state in the troubled region, officials said.
The 600 Marines were flown aboard a C-130 transport plane from the Southern Command headquarters in nearby Zamboanga city to reinforce troops in Davao, the Philippines third largest city, the officials said."The situation here is quite explosive but the armed forces is on top of the situation," said Brig. Gen. Braulio Balbas, Southern Command deputy commander, on arrival in Davao on Mindanao island, 600 miles south of Manila.
Balbas said troops late Thursday blocked approaches to Davao after intelligence reports were received that 1,500 rebellious soldiers and civilian sympathizers planned to mount a mutiny in Davao over the weekend and proclaim a separate state in Mindanao.
Mindanao, home to 3.5 million Filipino Moslems in the largely Christian country, has been the scene of a separatist war that has claimed more than 100,000 lives over the past two decades.
Balbas said the mutineers are led by Col. Alexander Noble, former deputy chief of presidential guards under the late President Ferdinand Marcos.
Noble was reported to have escaped after mutineers who seized a military air base in the central province of Cebu surrendered Dec. 9, ending the sixth coup attempt against President Corazon Aquino after nine days.
Officials said more than 1,500 rebellious soldiers remained at large, scattered across the archipelago despite the crushing of the mutiny that left 119 people dead and more than 600 wounded.
Defense Secretary Fidel Ramos played down threats of an uprising in Davao, saying, "That's being attended to even before the movement started. Really, small numbers are involved here."
Brig. Gen. Guillermo Flores, Southern Command chief, said in a telephone interview from his Zamboanga headquarters, the dispatch of the crack Marine battalion was a "pre-emptive measure."
"No area in Mindanao is under the control of renegade soldiers," said Flores. He said the rebel soldiers numbered 150. "They are not being reinforced by military sympathizers, but have civilian sympathizers connected with the Mindanao Independence Movement."
Aquino said Philippine troops have moved "to protect targets of desperate rebel attacks" in the wake of the grenade bombing Thursday of the U.S Embassy recreation facility and the home of Agriculture Attache Lyle Moe.