| Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo during her annual state of the nation address in Manila. (AFP)
Manila, July 28 (Reuters): A failed mutiny by 300 Philippine soldiers took on political overtones today as police arrested an aide to ousted President Joseph Estrada and the government ordered an investigation into the roots of the weekend uprising.
Delivering her annual state of the nation address just hours after police arrested Estrada’s aide, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo said the siege in central Manila was deplorable, and suggested there was political scheming behind the rebellion.
“Such actions are deplorable and will always be met with the full force of the law, including the political component,” she said of the mutiny. “Yet they signal an underlying problem that we must address.”
Nearly 300 mutineers ended a 19-hour siege yesterday after accusing the government and senior military officers of graft, collusion with Muslim rebels and planning to impose martial law to avoid presidential elections scheduled for 2004. Arroyo, elevated from vice-president by a popular revolt that forced out Estrada in January 2001 with the blessings of the army and the church, made no mention in the nationally broadcast speech of her oft-repeated pledge not to run for office next May.
Despite Arroyo’s assurances yesterday that the mutiny had not hurt national security or political stability, the main share index lost 2.11 per cent and the peso fell 1 per cent.
The head of an influential business group warned the administration against sweeping the grievances of the rogue troops under the carpet as some commentators said the uprising was part of general disaffection with Arroyo’s government.
But Peter Wallace, an economic consultant who runs a think-tank in Manila, said the coup concerns were overdone.
“Foreign investors, if knowledgeable or sensible enough, won’t be taking it seriously,” he said. “If you had been away over the weekend and came back today you would never have known it had happened.”
Arroyo said an independent commission would investigate “the roots of the mutiny and the provocations that inspired it”.
She also ordered an independent investigation of a bombing in the south of the overwhelmingly Roman Catholic country. The rogue soldiers had accused the government of staging the attack and blaming Muslim rebels to gain military aid from Washington.
“Pushing accountability for something like this will send a signal that the country means business and wants to correct things and come through with reforms,” Guillermo Luz, president of the Makati Business Club, said on television.
“Anything less than that would probably raise the political risk profile for the country.”
Arroyo announced peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the country’s largest Muslim rebel group, would restart in Malaysia next week to try to end three decades of violence.
But it was tough to put an entirely positive spin on the security situation after a notorious Muslim militant escaped from prison recently and rogue troops paralysed Manila’s commercial heart under the apparent hand of her political opponents.
There were fears the mutiny could be the start of a throwback to the 1986-1992 rule of President Corazon Aquino, which was marked by a string of coup attempts that stymied the Philippines as its southeast Asian neighbours enjoyed rapid growth.
Police said they found weapons, ammunition and red armbands worn by the renegade soldiers in a raid on a house owned by Ramon Cardenas. Cardenas — who denied any involvement — was a cabinet minister under Estrada, who is now on trial for economic plunder.
National Bureau of Investigation chief Reynaldo Wycoco said other conspirators“were believed to include former high-ranking government officials in the deposed Estrada administration”.
”I have nothing to do with it,” Estrada said in a statement.“It is obvious this is political harassment.”
Officials also said they were gathering evidence about the role of Senator Gregorio Honasan, a former military officer who led coup attempts in the 1980s. He was one of the negotiators who helped end the siege on Sunday night without a shot being fired. (With reporting by Carmina Reyes, Rosemarie Francisco and Raju Gopalakrishnan)