October 4, 2021 is the 31st Anniversary of the 1990 Mindanao Crisis, better known hereabouts as the Alexander Noble Mutiny.

It was counted as the seventh of the 1986-1990 coup attempts against the government of President Corazon C. Aquino and lasted from October 4-6, 1990 in the Northern Mindanao cities of Butuan, Cagayan de Oro and Iligan.

There have been rumors that a coup attempt was brewing in the region for nearly six months.

Military sources said the mutineers were planning to stage ″pocket rebellions″ in remote areas of the country before striking in the capital.

Mrs. Aquino had previously survived six coup attempts since she took office in February 1986. In the most recent attempt, in December, rebels seized Manila’s financial district in bloody fighting and nearly toppled the government. Over 100 people were killed.

On Thursday, October 4th, 1990, a bomb exploded at a water pumping station at the Philippine Army headquarters in Manila three hours after the Mindanao base was taken, but caused no casualties.

It was the 35th explosion in the capital since August. Officials viewed the bombings as the work of military officers hoping to destabilize the country.

The 1990 Mindanao crisis began when rogue Col. Alexander Noble and his supporters seized two military garrisons in Cagayan de Oro  and Butuan  without firing a shot and unilaterally proclaimed the independence of the Federal Republic of Mindanao on Thursday, October 4, 1990.

According to an informed military source, Noble had gathered some 500 military followers from two infantry units that had been chasing him through the jungles of northern Mindanao for the past two months. The 43-year-old former deputy chief of Aquino’s Presidential Security Guard was also backed by about 200 Higaonon tribesmen and 1,500 civilian supporters of Reuben Canoy‘s Mindanao Independence Movement, the source said. Some 150 Scout Rangers from Iligan also declared their support.

Rebel Col. Alex Noble with his Higaonon bodyguards. (The Associated Press)

According to Noble, the proclaimed state would have a civilian-military junta as government. He later announced the next day that he was calling for dialogue with the Philippine government.

Noble is a former bodyguard of President Corazon C. Aquino. He had been hiding in the jungles of northern Mindanao since his involvement in plotting the two attempts against Aquino last December 1989. The police had offered a $40,000 reward for his capture.

Butuan

Officials said about 200 rebel soldiers launched the revolt about 1 a.m. on Thursday, October 10, 1990, seizing the 402nd Brigade army base in Butuan City. Flights to Mindanao were canceled and schools on the island were closed.

De Villa said soldiers from the 53rd Infantry Battalion, one of the units of the 402nd Brigade, organized the takeover.

The rebels later moved to Cagayan de Oro, 70 miles west of Butuan.

″This shows that the free Mindanao movement is not just propaganda,″ Noble told reporters at Camp Evangelista.

Iligan

Earlier Friday, about 150 Scout Rangers from the 23rd Infantry Battalion in Iligan City, 88 kms from Cagayan de Oro, declared their allegiance to Noble.

PAF North American T-28 Trojan (photo by Peter Steinmann)

Military officials reported government planes attacked and destroyed a Sikorsky AUH-76 gunship commandeered by the rebel soldiers.

Late Friday, the mutinous Rangers left their camp and marched to the heart of Iligan, where they planned to camp overnight.

Government forces did not attempt to stop them to avoid a firefight in the industrial center.

Cagayan de Oro

National Security Adviser Rafael Ileto said that the rebels hoped to establish a secessionist government on Mindanao, then ″move up north.″

Noble’s forces from Butuan parade along Velez Street in Cagayan de Oro surrounded by curious onlookers.
(photo courtesy of Froilan Gallardo)

Witnesses said rebels were marching around the streets of Cagayan de Oro in a virtual ″victory parade,″ attracting large crowds of curiosity seekers.

But no other Philippine Army units joined the uprising, and it fizzled out after government planes bombed the rebel positions in Butuan City on Friday.

The Government’s air strike on Friday morning, by two T-28 fighters deployed from Edwin Andrews Air Base in Zamboanga City, destroyed buildings, trucks and equipment at the camp in Butuan.

Air Response

To counter the rebellion, six AT-26D Trojans (colloquially known as “Tora-Toras”) from Mactan Air Base and another two from Edwin Andrews Air Base in Zamboanga City, took-off to eliminate the rebel gunship and perform persuasion flights over Cagayan de Oro.

T-28 Trojans of the Philippine Air Force 15th Strike Wing (pinterest)

Lt. Hubert Yulo, one of the pilots from Mactan was on his first combat mission with Lt. Arne Mangubat. They reached Cagayan de Oro after one and a half hours but were unable to locate the rebel helicopter and with Yulo’s plane low on fuel, Mangubat decided to return to Mactan.

However, 20 minutes after turning back, Yulo reported engine vibration and soon after said his aircraft was losing power. Although he was ordered to eject, one of the pilots seeing a beach line below called out for him to ditch. But Yulo’s plane was descending too fast and was unable to reach the beach, so he ejected at around 100 feet and drowned underneath his parachute as he was unable to disengage from it.

Lt. Hubert Yulo
(photo from PAF Historical Records courtesy of PAF Col. Francis Karem Elazegui Neri, MNSA)

Yulo became the sole casualty of the Noble uprising, ironically it turned out, as Noble apparently staged his mutiny without firing a single shot. In four previous coup attempts, at least 168 persons were killed and more than 900 wounded.

Government Response

President Corazon Aquino ordered the country’s security forces to stop the mutiny. The Armed Forces of the Philippines was put into red alert. Hundreds of troops were stationed near the headquarters of the Armed Forces of the Philippines in Manila due to a military report months before the rebellion warning of a coup attempt would follow an uprising in Mindanao.

Troops with anti-aircraft weaponry were stationed around the military compound while troops with anti-tank weaponry and machine gun stationed within the walled compound and outside its gates. Aquino’s military advisor, Mariano Adalem in a briefing for foreign diplomats said that Noble’s actions in Mindanao could be a distraction, and his actions in Mindanao a regional destabilization effort leading to a coup d’état. 

Gen. Renato S. de Villa, the armed forces Chief of Staff, said he was ”100 percent” certain that Noble was coordinating with the leadership of the Reform the Armed Forces Movement (RAM), an underground group of right-wing former military officers involved in previous coup attempts.

Analyzing the revolt before the surrender, Alexander Magno, a professor of political science at University of the Philippines, said: ”Apparently the underground network began to develop a plan, although it was not prepared to execute it as yet.”

”Noble, under pressure, initiated the plan independently, hoping to create momentum, hoping for support from comrades in the rebel military network,” he said. ”But a sequence of camp defections would have to occur quickly to build political momentum and force the Government to commit mistakes and to panic in the face of the defection. This didn’t occur and Noble became isolated.”

Peaceful Surrender

Accompanied by priests and local officials who negotiated his surrender, Noble gave himself up to Sen. Aquilino Pimentel Jr., a former mayor of the city, at 3:00 am of Saturday, October 6. Pimentel flew to the city Friday to offer himself as a negotiator to end the crisis.

Cagayan de Oro media interview Col. Alex Noble. (Photo courtesy of Herbie Gomez, lower right of photo)

Noble told reporters that his basic goal had been to call attention to Mindanao’s problems, and that he had achieved it, The Associated Press reported.

”At least the basic issues can be resolved peacefully,” the renegade colonel was quoted as saying.

 “They want me to continue their cause for Mindanao, which is for the national government to give enough attention,” Pimentel said. “I don’t see anything wrong with that.”

Besides Noble, government forces arrested renegade colonel Victor Erfe, a former coup plotter who had been hiding out on Mindanao for three years; Reuben R. Canoy, a Mindanao independence advocate and the rebellion’s leading civilian supporter; and about 200 other officers and enlisted men, military officials said. They said other rebels who changed into civilian clothes and fled were being hunted as part of “mopping up operations” on the northern coast of Mindanao.

Noble was escorted to Manila by military officials led by Brig. Gen Arturo Enrile, superintendent of the Philippine Military Academy. Despite the arrest, Noble claimed success in his goal into bringing attention to the issues affecting Mindanao.

Aquino’s Executive Secretary Catalino Macaraig said Noble and Erfe would face a court-martial. Canoy would be charged with rebellion before a civilian court.

US ambassador Nicholas Platt said that America “strongly condemns any effort to destabilize the elected Philippine government.”

The United States provided air support for Aquino in quelling the December uprising in which 119 people were killed and more than 500 were wounded.

Epilogue

In an online post dated August 24, 2013, Mindanao Gold Star Daily Editor in Chief Herbie Gomez, and veteran journalist Froilan Gallardo interviewed Noble 23 years after he led the 7th unsuccessful military rebellion against the Cory Aquino government.

“Froilan and I were among those who covered the pocket rebellion in October 1990,” Gomez remarked. “Early this week, we sat down and had coffee with Col. Noble and I asked him if he encountered the fleeing Brig. Gen. Miguel Sol (4th Infantry Division commander) after the siege of Camp Evangelista. He said, “Yes.” Sol allegedly told him: “Ikaw talaga Alex. Kung hindi dahil sa kalokohan mo, wala sana tayo dito ngayon.” Both faced the military court. Noble still has that pony tail 23 years later.”

In an even later interview published by the Philippine News Agency on March 1, 2020, Noble told journalist Alexander Lopez of the Philippine News Agency thatthe longstanding communist insurgency problem in the Philippines is deeply-rooted in economic inequality, not in ideology.

Lopez interviewed Noble at the headquarters of the Army’s 23rd Infantry Battalion based in Buenavista, Agusan del Norte, during the unit’s 37th-anniversary celebration, served as the battalion’s seventh commander from April 10, 1980, to November 1, 1985.
(PNA photo by Alexander Lopez)

Lopez interviewed Noble at the headquarters of the Army’s 23rd Infantry Battalion based in Buenavista, Agusan del Norte, during the unit’s 37th-anniversary celebration, served as the battalion’s seventh commander from April 10, 1980, to November 1, 1985.

The former Army official recalled that he once trained members of “Alimaong” when he served the intelligence service of the Army in the hinterlands of Esperanza and Sibagat, Agusan del Sur, in parts of Surigao del Sur, in Gingoog City, Misamis Oriental, and in Malaybalay, Bukidnon.

“The warriors are an integral part of the tribe. They can effectively defend their territories and communities from the NPA,” he said.

However, this strategy must also be complemented by programs geared at improving the economic standing of the tribe members. Failure to address the economic side, he said, would render any effort to bring the IP communities on the government side unsustainable.

For instance, Noble said that despite the campaigns and training they provided to the tribal warriors, the NPA still managed to recruit them.

“The tribes were neglected. When the NPA did the recruitment, they (the tribe) were easily swayed and convinced to join the communist movement,” he added.

Noble also recalled the time he was invited to a National Security Council meeting in Malacañang during the administration of former president Fidel V. Ramos where the problem of insurgency was discussed.

“I told them that insurgency is not a political or military problem. Insurgency is an economic problem. The NPA recruitment is anchored on the poverty the ordinary people experience,” Noble said.

The former Army official said the government is on the right track when President Rodrigo Duterte introduced the “whole-of-nation” approach to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (ELCAC).

The new approach, he said, would address the core aspects of the insurgency problem in the country–economic inequality–by mustering the weight of the entire government to develop areas in the countryside that have long been a breeding ground for anti-government sentiments.

“All instrumentalities of the government must contribute and participate in the fight to finally end the insurgency,” he said. (Collated by Mike Baños)

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