Tue, Jul 29, 2003 - Page 1 News List

Philippines mutiny ends, hunt for plotters begins

IN COMMAND An associate of former president Joseph Estrada was arrested as President Gloria Arroyo promised to find out who was behind the military uprising


Philippines President Gloria Arroyo vowed to hunt down the political backers of a failed military uprising yesterday as police arrested an aide of deposed former leader Joseph Estrada.

A day after soldiers demanding Arroyo's resignation ended a 20-hour standoff peacefully, the Philippines leader said an independent commission would "investigate the roots of the mutiny and the provocations that inspired it."

Business in the Makati district was back to normal yesterday, after the 300 rebels booby-trapped the country's financial center and briefly trapped hundreds of scared expatriates as well as a number of foreign diplomats.

But fears of a long-term economic impact of the mutiny sent the financial markets tumbling.

"Yesterday without bloodshed, without damage to property, and within a single day, we overcame an ill-conceived mutiny carried out by misguided military officers," Arroyo said in her annual state of the nation speech to Congress.

"Such actions are deplorable and will be met with the full force of the law, including their political components," she said.

Police arrested Ramon Cardenas, a junior minister during Estrada's presidency, in a raid on his home in a plush village near a Makati high rise where most of the mutineers had made their stand.

The soldiers agreed to return to barracks just before midnight Sunday to face possible court-martial.

Police seized military uniforms, automatic rifles and a huge cache of firearms from the home of Cardenas, who denied involvement in the attack.

Estrada was toppled in a military-led uprising that installed President Gloria Arroyo in 2001.

The authorities are also preparing rebellion charges against another Estrada ally, opposition Senator Gregorio Honasan.

Arroyo's spokesman Ignacio Bunye said her government would investigate the mutineers' claims of corruption in the military brass, but warned that public officials found to have helped the soldiers would be prosecuted.

"She is very determined to get at the root of the matter," Bunye said in a statement. "Let the axe fall where it may. There will be no holy cows in this investigation."

Interior Secretary Jose Lina said Senator Honasan's "involvement is as clear as day."

"We are just gathering more evidence, and we will file [rebellion] charges against Senator Honasan," Lina said.

Honasan, a former army colonel who led seven bloody coup attempts in the 1980s, had heatedly denied the accusation and helped government negotiators win the rebels' surrender.

While the soldiers have some legitimate grievances relating to corruption in the military, Lina said, it appeared there was a "civilian component" that helped them carry out the uprising.

Investigators found that the rebels' plan was to encourage civilians to gather at the building where they were holed up in hopes of causing a larger uprising to force Arroyo's resignation.

"These 296 soldiers did not act by themselves alone," Lina said. "There is a political angle here because they were demanding the resignation of President Gloria Arroyo. What can be more political than that?"

Estrada, who is now detained on corruption charges, maintains he was illegally unseated by Arroyo.

The president hailed late Sunday the end of the Southeast Asian nation's eighth military uprising in 17 years as a "triumph for democracy."

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