GMA  ACTING  QUICKLY  TO  CONSOLIDATE  SUPPORT  VS.  IMPEACHMENT  MOVES

MANILA, June 9, 2005 (STAR) By Jess Diaz - President Arroyo is apparently acting quickly to blunt moves by militant party-list members of the House of Representatives and the opposition to initiate an impeachment case against her.

She’s calling all her House allies to separate meetings, reportedly to discuss the constitutional means of ousting her from office that lawmakers belonging to activist party-list groups have announced they would soon set forth.

While Mrs. Arroyo is consolidating her allies, Vice President Noli de Castro has come to her side, giving assurance that none of his supporters are part of the group seeking the President’s impeachment.

De Castro called on the public yesterday not to get worked up by talk about destabilization and Mrs. Arroyo’s ouster.

None of these, he said, would do the country any good.

"As Vice President, I affirm my loyalty to our country and our people and pledge my allegiance to our Constitution and its duly constituted authorities," De Castro said.

A leader of the ruling Lakas party, which Mrs. Arroyo chairs, told The STAR yesterday that the President was meeting with party members, including governors, tomorrow night at Malacañang.

"On top of the agenda is the incipient impeachment move" at the House of Representatives, the source said.

Separately, Mrs. Arroyo is meeting today or tomorrow with allies belonging to the Kabalikat ng Mamamayang Pilipino (Kampi), the political party she founded in 1997 when she was still senator.

Kampi is led by Antipolo City Rep. Ronaldo Puno, a political adviser of the President and a close friend of her husband, First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo.

It has a sizeable membership in the House that includes Negros Occidental Rep. Jose Ignacio "Iggy" Arroyo, a brother of the First Gentleman, and presidential son and Pampanga Rep. Juan Miguel "Mikey" Arroyo.

By conferring with allies, the President is mustering political support for her beleaguered administration. She is also meeting with local officials, including town mayors, whom she conferred with yesterday.

On Tuesday night, Mrs. Arroyo met with members of at least six batches of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) who assured her of their support in achieving the government’s 10-point priority agenda.

PMA graduates led by Deputy Director General Oscar Calderon, Philippine National Police (PNP) deputy chief for administration, met for more than an hour with the commander-in-chief over dinner at Malacañang.

"We promise to help ensure that her (10-point) program will reach policemen in the police detachment," said Calderon.

He was quick to add, however, that the meeting was not meant as a loyalty check by the President.

Calderon explained that it was held to address concerns of the members of Class 1973 to 1978, including promotion, housing and other programs for their respective men. Members of the PMA

Class ’73 to ’78 are considered senior officers in the police organization.

Calderon noted that each of the officers gave his commitment to Mrs. Arroyo that "the PNP will not be affected by political issues" which have commanded news headlines for the past weeks.

By moving fast to blunt the impeachment move, the President apparently wants to avoid a repeat of what happened to ousted President Joseph Estrada five years ago, when a few opposition congressmen led by then Minority Leader Feliciano Belmonte Jr. (now Quezon City mayor) filed an impeachment complaint against him.

Party-list Reps. Liza Maza of Gabriela Women’s Party and Teodoro Casiño of Bayan Muna have announced they will initiate an impeachment process against Mrs. Arroyo on the basis of the controversial Arroyo audiotapes, in which the President is supposedly talking to an election official about election fraud.

The opposition bloc is still studying whether or not to support the ouster move.

"We will carefully study it. We do not want to be quick on the draw," Minority Leader Francis Escudero told reporters.

At the same time, Escudero warned the President’s allies not to preempt the plan of party-list lawmakers by filing an impeachment complaint ahead of them just to shield Mrs. Arroyo from a genuine impeachment process.

"We do not want a repeat of the spectacle that they did before," he said.

He was referring to the complaint filed by Surigao del Sur Rep. Prospero Pichay Jr. in 2000 against then Vice President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Pichay, an Arroyo ally, preempted the move of Estrada supporters in the House to start an ouster process against Mrs. Arroyo, whom they suspected of leading a plot to unseat Estrada. Less than three months later, the former vice president assumed the presidency.

Escudero said the opposition would expose any bogus impeachment petition against Mrs. Arroyo.

Meanwhile, Malacañang brushed aside yesterday impeachment moves against the President.

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said the calls for Mrs. Arroyo to resign and threats that she would be impeached are expected from the opposition which, he said, is bent on destabilizing the administration.

"The opposition is the one saying it, you should expect it," Ermita said. What would be surprising, he said, is for the opposition to urge the President to remain in office.

Lawmaker allies of the President also belittled the incipient impeachment move, saying it won’t prosper.

"It will be dead on arrival. The House will never countenance illegal eavesdropping," said Nueva Ecija Rep. Aurelio Umali.

"Wiretaps are inadmissible in court or in an impeachment proceeding. If a pickpocket can’t be convicted with illegal wiretaps as evidence, so should not a president be," he said.

Representatives Antonio Cuenco of Cebu City and Exequiel Javier of Antique said any impeachment complaint against Mrs. Arroyo will be killed in the justice committee, to which it will be referred.

"The President has not violated the Constitution nor committed treason, bribery, graft and corruption, or betrayed the public trust, which are the impeachable offenses," they said.

For his part, Casiño said the Arroyo tapes are the equivalent of the "I accuse" privilege speech of then Sen. Teofisto Guingona Jr. that precipitated Estrada’s downfall.

He said Mrs. Arroyo has lost the moral and political authority to continue governing the nation and "is now on the verge of falling from the presidency."

Inadmissible

The Department of Justice (DOJ) made much the same statement yesterday, claiming the wiretapped recordings could not be used as evidence to impeach the President.

At a press conference, Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez said the two compact discs that allegedly carried a tapped telephone conversation between Mrs. Arroyo and an alleged official of the Comelec were "inadmissible in court."

"It cannot be, because it is inadmissible as evidence" Gonzalez said.

Using the authority of Republic Act 4200 or the "anti-wiretapping act," Gonzalez said he had suspended lawyer Alan Paguia, who earlier admitted to being the one who edited the taped conversation.

The media outfit that aired the tape and those who are in possession of the wire-tapped compact discs could also be held liable in court, the justice chief warned.

"Under the anti-wiretapping act, it shall be unlawful for any person not being authorized by all the parties to any private conversation or spoken words to tap any wire of cable or by using any other device or instrument to secretly overhear, intercept or record such communication or spoken words by using a device commonly known as dictaphone, dictagraph or detectaphone, walkie-talkie or tape recording, or however otherwise prescribed," Gonzalez said.

Even Presidential Spokesman Ignacio Bunye, who first released the tapes to the media, could also be held liable in court for having been in possession of the wiretapped compact discs, he said.

Gonzalez said Bunye should also be subject to investigation.

It is not a crime, he said, if the people who were part of the conversation knew that their conversations would be recorded.

He said that if the person whose conversation was to be tapped was accused of being involved in "destabilization," a court order would be needed to obtain the recording.

Gonzalez also defended Mrs. Arroyo, saying he had heard nothing illegal in the conversation between the President and the alleged Comelec official.

The DOJ chief said that if, indeed, it was the President’s voice that was wiretapped, this would have serious implications to national security.

"If anybody can wiretap the President, then phones can be wiretapped — my God, all our phones can be wiretapped for blackmail purposes. They have to amend this law because there is also public interest in that, the privacy of communication which is guaranteed in the bill of rights," he said.

Military Behind GMA

In the midst of all the controversies, three major service commanders have declared their full backing behind the administration.

Army chief Lt. Gen. Generoso Senga, Navy Flag Officer-in-Command (FOIC) Vice Adm. Ernesto de Leon, and Air Force chief Lt. Gen. Jose Reyes assured the officers and men of their respective commands are prepared to defend the legitimate government from

Any groups that attempt to usurp the rule of law.

The three issued this pledge in the wake of reports that certain quarters had been capitalizing on the jueteng controversies hounding the First Family and the now infamous wiretapped conversation of the President.

This announcement also came amid a series of reports that the leadership of the Armed Forces of the Philippines is itself on the

brink of collapse, not only because of the current scandals to hit the government, but also of the alleged infighting among senior officers within the command echelon.

As this developed, the AFP clarified that the reported movements of truckloads of soldiers in Metro Manila had been authorized by the top military leadership in connection with the military’s preparation for the upcoming Independence Day celebration.

Meanwhile, the Association of Generals and Flag Officers, Inc. (AGFO) yesterday disowned one of its members whom the military had linked to the alleged plot to destabilize the government.

In a press statement, AGFO assistant corporate secretary retired Maj. Gen. Jose Solquillo also chastised retired Commodore Ismael Aparri for conducting a press conference at the premises of AGFO office at Camp Aguinaldo without clearance.

Aparri, along with retired Army and defense chief Maj. Gen. Fortunato Abat and retired Brig. Gen. Angel Sadang, are being linked by the AFP to destabilization moves against the government. — With Pia Lee-Brago, Aurea Calica, Cecille Suerte Felipe, Jaime Laude, Jose Rodel Clapano, Paolo Romero


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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