GMA  READY  TO  FACE  IMPEACHMENT

MANILA, July 5, 2005
(STAR) By Paolo Romero - President Arroyo welcomed critics moving for her impeachment, saying this would provide her the opportunity to refute allegations that she cheated in last year’s elections.

Mrs. Arroyo, fighting for survival amid a crisis that has roiled the financial markets, sparked street protests and triggered fears of military intervention, said through her spokesman that she wants the nation to calm down.

"Hopefully, this move (impeachment) will quiet down the political environment," Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye said.

"The impeachment is uncalled for and will just be a waste of time," he said.

"But if this move is the only way to put a stop to the prevailing political grandstanding and mudslinging, then we welcome the move ... if only to establish the proper constitutional venue," Bunye said.

By going through an impeachment process, the country would be able to get back to the business of reviving the economy and "an immediate return to normalcy under the rule of law," he said.

Bunye said the Palace respects the announcement made by Speaker Jose de Venecia Jr. that he would endorse the impeachment complaint filed by Marcos loyalist lawyer Oliver Lozano for deliberation when the 13th Congress opens its Second Regular Session on July 25.

The impeachment complaint followed the release of an audio recording in which Mrs. Arroyo purportedly was heard talking to a senior election official.

While the President admitted improperly calling a poll official during the vote count, she denies trying to fix the election results.

Mrs. Arroyo stressed she will not step down over the allegations that she cheated in the elections.

There have been widespread concern that the allegations could spark another "people power" revolt or a coup, either of which could destabilize the country further.

Mrs. Arroyo’s allies have a majority in the justice committee at the House of Representatives that could stop any impeachment complaint from prospering.

Should her allies lose any vote in committee, the complaint would go to a full plenary debate, where a one-third vote would send the charges to the Senate for trial.

Minority Leader Rep. Francis Escudero (Sorsogon) has expressed wariness over the impeachment route, describing the hastily filed complaint as flawed and a trap that would give Mrs. Arroyo the opportunity to beat the rap.

Opposition lawmakers claimed the impeachment complaint was orchestrated by the Arroyo administration to ensure no other complaints are filed within a year, as mandated by the Constitution.

Instead, the opposition has encouraged street protests apparently in the hope of persuading key sectors of society — such as the military, the dominant Roman Catholic Church and the middle classes — to withdraw their support for the President.

Mrs. Arroyo came to power through a bloodless, military-backed popular revolt in 2001 that toppled the elected president Joseph Estrada, now on trial for corruption. Estrada had been impeached but escaped conviction when his Senate allies blocked the use of key evidence against him.

The opposition alleges that in calling the election official in the supposedly wiretapped conversation, Mrs. Arroyo was trying to fix a million-vote victory against movie icon Fernando Poe Jr.

The House is set to play the three-hour tape recording in a public hearing on the vote-rigging allegations.

Lozano, the former counsel of the Marcos family, filed the impeachment complaint against Mrs. Arroyo last week for "betrayal of public trust," one of several grounds for impeachment against the President.

Lozano alleged Mrs. Arroyo betrayed the public trust by contacting the election official.

He pointed out Mrs. Arroyo’s admission already signified conduct unbecoming of a public official.

Another lawyer filed a second impeachment complaint against Mrs. Arroyo yesterday.

In his complaint, Jose Lopez of Malate, Manila, simply adopted and reproduced the first petition filed Lozano, along with his supplemental affidavits.

Like the first complainant, the second petitioner mirrored the accusations against Mrs. Arroyo for betrayal of the public trust for calling an election official at the height of the vote canvassing last year.

Lopez alleged Mrs. Arroyo’s admission and subsequent apology did not erase the impeachable offense that she committed.

Lopez’s impeachment was endorsed by Palawan Rep. Antonio Alvarez, a member of the Kabalikat ng Malayang Pilipino (Kampi), the political party founded by Mrs. Arroyo in 1997 when she was still a senator.

Lozano’s complaint had been endorsed by Rep. Rodante Marcoleta of the party-list group Alagad who has aligned himself with the President’s defenders in the "Gloriagate" wiretap tape inquiry.

Majority Leader Prospero Nograles (Davao City), chairman of the House committee on rules, said the chamber had yet to adopt the procedures for the impeachment proceedings.

"We have not approved any impeachment rules nor provisionally adopted the rules on impeachment of the 12th Congress," Nograles said.

"Perhaps, we should now prioritize the adoption of impeachment rules," he added.

Nograles said the adoption of the rules and procedures could be done as soon as Congress opens its second regular session on July 25.

In a related development, two lawmakers urged the Ombudsman to initiate an investigation of the wiretapped recordings, citing possible violation of the Constitution and several laws.

Akbayan party-list Reps. Loretta Ann Rosales and Mario Aguja, along with 15 other members of the organization, sent a request to the Office of the Ombudsman yesterday.

"We come to your office with the urgent appeal to please conduct an immediate and thorough investigation," the two lawmakers said.

Rosales and Aguja said the President’s call to the poll official as revealed in the wiretap tapes could be a violation of the Anti-Graft Law, the code of conduct for state employees, the Omnibus Election Code and obstruction of justice.

They said the Chief Executive herself should be investigated for purposes of impeachment, since her supposed phone call to Commission on Elections (Comelec) Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano "point to possible violations of the Constitution, and other laws."

Ombudsman Simeon Marcelo, on the other hand, assured the lawmakers they were fulfilling their mandate in "determining if there were violations" committed by the people involved, including Mrs. Arroyo.

But with regard to allegations of electoral fraud, Marcelo clarified they had no jurisdiction to conduct a probe since such power rests with the Comelec.

Marcelo disclosed nonetheless that a committee had been created with the deputy Ombudsmen as members of the panel.

Being a presidential appointee, Marcelo said he would inhibit himself from the deliberations of the committee.

"There is a degree of independence among our field investigators," Marcelo pointed out. – With Jess Diaz, Delon Porcalla, Eva Visperas, AFP, AP


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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