MANILA, SEPT. 8 -- President Corazon Aquino's embattled Executive Secretary Joker Arroyo appeared in his own defense before Congress today, lashing out at critics who accuse him of being a communist sympathizer.

Congressional leaders have stepped up their calls for the resignations of Arroyo and Aquino's other top aide, special counsel Teodoro Locsin. Critics have said the two tried to undermine the military leadership during the crucial early hours of the the recent abortive military coup.

In an atmosphere of governmental disarray, with political and military leaders engaged in finger-pointing and recrimination over the coup attempt, Arroyo called for officials to "close ranks" even as he took on his critics on the issue of communism.

Arroyo defended his earlier characterization of Col. Honesto Isleta, the armed forces spokesman, as "a Goebbels propagandist," saying Isleta "called me a commie and I'm not a commie."

Vice President Salvador Laurel spent the weekend touring military bases, receiving rousing applause when he asked soldiers, "Should President Aquino change members of the Cabinet," and "Should the president remove the communists in government?"

The picture that has emerged in the days following the failed coup has been one of a government searching to cast blame for the uprising. Military officials have accused Aquino, and particularly her two aides, of ignoring military grievances and allowing widespread dissent to spread within the armed forces.

Presidential aides, on the other hand, have said the coup attempt called into question the loyalty of the military.

The result is that instead of celebrating the defeat of the fifth and most serious coup attempt, the government has been reduced to the kind of internal bickering that characterized its first months in 1986.

Arroyo suggested that Laurel was overstepping his authority during his trips to the military camps. "That the vice president was asked to go to the various military camps, yes. That he was authorized or asked to foment dissent, no," Arroyo said.

"We foiled a coup, so we should rejoice," Arroyo said. "But after every coup -- like this particular coup -- someone must be blamed. So we have become the culprits."

In another development, police released Don Honasan, younger brother of the renegade colonel and coup leader Gregorio (Gringo) Honasan, after a judge dismissed charges of illegal possession of firearms.