DAVAO, Philippines -- Hundreds of government troops were disarmed by security guards today prior to a visit to two military camps by President Corazon Aquino, who told the soldiers she made the trip to war-torn Mindanao island despite assassination threats.
On her third trip outside the capital since a bloody Aug. 28 coup attempt by mutinous troops, Aquino flew to Davao, 600 miles south of Manila, as part of a program of consultations with the military.
On her arrival, the president was taken by helicopter to a former communist guerrilla camp now being used by an army brigade. She brought the troops a television set and a video tape machine and pledged a donation of 50,000 pesos ($2,500) for the construction of additional huts.
'Please know that your commander in chief is well aware of the hardships and the sufferings you are undergoing and I want you to know that I will not abandon you ever,' Aquino said to a group of 200 soldiers at the camp in Mawab, 40 miles northeast of Davao.
'I will take care of you and your needs even though the other day I was warned that perhaps again my life will be endangered,' Aquino said.
'I came here. I paid no regard to that because my duty is to see to it that the members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines are well taken care of and that your needs are met,' said Aquino.
She reiterated her earlier warningsthat 'we can no longer tolerate' enemies of the republic from the left and the right.
'Unless we defeat the enemy, we will never make this country prosper,' she said.
Aquino later repeated the pledge in remarks to soldiers at Camp Catitipan in Davao.
Before their meeting with Aquino, soldiers at both camps -- enlisted men and officers -- were disarmed by presidential security guards, military sources said. Two helicopter gunships hovered overhead and presidential guards provided tight security.
Aquino briefly visited the crowded slum district of Agdao for a meeting with members of the vigilante group Alsa Masa (Risen Masses), which has successfully driven out communist urban guerrillas from the area.
The 23,000-member communist New People's Army turned Davao into a laboratory for its urban guerrilla war two years ago, setting loose assassins to gun down lawmen and disrupting commercial life in the industrial port city.
'We look up to you as the example in our fight against communism,' Aquino said amid chants of 'Cory, Cory' from hundreds of people who turned out on the main street of Agdao for a brief ceremony.
The independent Philippine Daily Inquirer, meanwhile, reported today that spokesmen for fugitive Col. Gregorio (Gringo) Honasan, leader of the Aug. 28 coup attempt, held a news conference Thursday at a noodle restaurant on the outskirts of Manila. It said the rebels announced there would be a coup attempt while Aquino visited Davao.
The Inquirer quoted a rebel colonel nicknamed 'Legs' as saying the coup would be staged after several hundred mutineers detained in military stockades had been freed.
But Manila was reported quiet while Aquino was in Davao and security at the Malacanang presidential palace appeared normal.
At least 53 people were killed and 300 wounded in the Aug. 28 coup attempt, the fifth and gravest of Aquino's 20-month presidency.