MANILA, July 11, 2005 (STAR) By Paolo Romero - "I WILL READ EVERY LINE"... President Arroyo pledged last night to "read every line" of the statement issued by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), whose members said they will not support calls for her resignation.

"I appreciate their collective voice of moderation and temperance at this time of national soul-searching. I will read every line and everything between the lines in the bishops’ statement in an effort to bring greater moral enrichment to a nation impoverished both in its material and spiritual foundations," she said in a radio address in response to the CBCP’s statement.

For Vice President Noli de Castro, the CBCP’s decision was God’s answer to his prayer.

Mrs. Arroyo expressed gratitude for the prelates’ "statement of guidance and wisdom" and vowed to take the bishops’ admonitions to heart. She also pledged to work hard to regain the people’s trust and become a "servant-President" of the nation.

Responding to the bishops, the President cited a passage from the Bible, in St. Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians: "I cannot boast about myself except about my weaknesses."

"I’ve searched deeply for moral guidance... But I know in faith and in my own weakness this power (of humility) can be perfect in me to help me become the servant-President for you and the way He wants me to be," she said.

Mrs. Arroyo added that she will continue to pray with the Filipino people for "true redemption from corruption and evil."

The President called on all sectors of society to focus on moving the economy forward as she pledged to work with the Church, members of civil society and other groups to build a better quality of life for Filipinos and put an end to the political bickering "that is causing such harm to the nation."

"Once more, I pledge to do everything in my power to earn your enduring trust and support. Once again, beloved bishops, thank you," she concluded.

Second Chance

De Castro, the President’s constitutional successor, appealed to Filipinos to give her a second chance amid mounting calls for her to step down from office and the resignation of eight members of her Cabinet.

"Let us give the President time to decide on how to proceed from this crisis bearing in mind the best interest of the country. We must recognize that extra-constitutional ways are divisive. We must all adhere to the rule of law and give primacy to the Constitution," he said.

De Castro asked the public to "heed the bishops’ call and unite in prayer" to put an end to the political crisis "and move towards stability, peace and progress."

His chief of staff, Jesse Andres, said the Vice President is in favor of pursuing the truth behind the allegations that Mrs. Arroyo was heard plotting to rig the results of last year’s election on a recording of a wiretapped conversation with an election official.

Though she did not admit it was her voice on tape, she apologized for calling up an election official last year while the presidential vote was being counted, She has denied any wrongdoing.

"Naturally, the Vice President respects the admission, but it doesn’t end there. There are different interpretations. Only one body could decide, which is Congress," Andres said.

While the Vice President will never initiate or support an impeachment complaint against the President, Andres said De Castro will also not oppose it.

"One, it’s quite unethical for him to do it since under the Constitution he is the successor. And they may challenge his motives. Second, he believes the President needs support and he can’t be part of a movement to derail the government. He’ll continue what he has to do," Andres said.

Other Palace officials and close allies of the President heaved a sigh of relief after the CBCP issued its statement.

Presidential Management Staff head Rigoberto Tiglao said the CBCP’s statement would stabilize the tense political situation. He said the CBCP’s word carries much weight since their members are "in touch with Filipinos from all walks of life all over the country."

"Their consensus that (Mrs.) Arroyo should not step down is a de facto referendum of the Filipinos’ sentiment," he said.

Deposed President Joseph Estrada, after watching the CBCP’s televised press conference, called up The STAR last night to express his extreme disappointment over the stand taken by the bishops.

"The voice of the people is the voice of God. The CBCP is not the voice of the people," he said, vowing to "bring this issue before the Filipino people." He did not elaborate.

Estrada disclosed that his Puwersa ng Masang Pilipino will issue an official statement today, saying that this matter should be settled by Filipinos as a nation.

Regaining Trust

Presidential adviser for political affairs Gabriel Claudio said the Arroyo administration welcomed the bishops’ admonition and will act on it with "urgency, humility and sincerity."

"It is clear that much has yet to be done to restore confidence in government. We will be guided by the prescriptions of the bishops, including our openness to... the creation of a truth commission," he said.

Government Media Group head Secretary Cerge Remonde said the bishops’ statement would reduce the "political noise to a lower decibel" and make the media more responsible in writing about the truth.

Though her advisers are "relieved and happy," one Palace official said "we cannot broadcast that" since their "actions and avowals would be noted."

At the House of Representatives, 30 congressmen led by Parañaque Rep. Eduardo Zialcita and Buhay party-list Rep. Rene Velarde hailed the CBCP’s decision to uphold the rule of law.

"The CBCP’s forthright and unequivocal stance is obviously the product of intense prayer for discernment and guidance by the Holy Spirit. It is in line with the best Christian ideals of justice, tolerance, love, and sacrifice, married to a high sense of patriotism," Zialcita said.

Majority Leader Prospero Nograles hailed the CBCP’s stand, saying that the President’s detractors should heed the position of the bishops, who called for a peaceful resolution of the issues raised against Mrs. Arroyo. — With Pia Lee-Brago, Aurea Calica, Marichu Villanueva

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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