MANILA: A day after facing down a dramatic military mutiny that shook her presidency, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo yesterday won a standing ovation from the nation's Congress by ordering an independent probe into the causes of the uprising by junior officers.
Hours earlier, police arrested a key supporter of Joseph Estrada, the disgraced ex-president Arroyo replaced after his ouster by popular protest in 2001.
They alleged that several Estrada cronies aided and fomented Sunday's rebellion that ended without bloodshed after a 19-hour standoff in Manila's financial district.
Lawyers for the ex-leader, who has been in custody for more than two years as he stands trial for corruption, insisted that Estrada had nothing to do with Sunday's drama.
Arroyo, who many regard as Estrada's nemesis, used her state of the nation address to reassure the country that she remains in control.
The force of her words immediately fuelled speculation that she might reverse an earlier promise not to stand in next year's presidential election.
Arroyo did not mention her political plans, but pledged action to solve critical problems including terrorism, drugs, corruption, separatism and the struggling economy.
“I am constituting an independent commission to investigate the roots of the mutiny and the provocation that inspired it,'' she told Congress.
“Such actions are deplorable and will be met with the full force of law.''
She continued the tough talk with a plan to reform the police force, branded as corrupt and inept following the July 14 escape of three terror suspects thought to have bribed their way out of the main police headquarters.
Arroyo, however, failed to outline a widely expected change of senior police commanders – something that had been included in a draft of her speech supplied to reporters.
However, police announced earlier yesterday they were using emergency powers granted by Arroyo to detain some of Estrada's associates suspected in the mutiny case.
The first to be nabbed was Ramon Cardenas, a member of Estrada's Cabinet.
Officers said he owned a “safe house'' for the rebel troops – stacked with assault rifles, ammunition and the same red armbands used by the soldiers who seized an apartment and ritzy shopping complex here.
Police are trying to gather evidence against Senator Gregorio “Gringo'' Honasan, also suspected of providing help to the mutineers, said police official Eduardo Matillano. Honasan, a former army colonel who led seven coup attempts in the 1980s, has strongly denied the accusation.
The nearly 300 mutineers demanded the resignation of Arroyo, but backed down during talks with government negotiators.
Amid heightened security fears, about 3,000 police officers and sharpshooters were deployed outside the Congress building for Arroyo's speech. – AP