, July 24, 2005
(STAR) By Aurea Calica - Malacañang denied yesterday it was trying to sabotage the opposition move to impeach President Arroyo by submitting a reply to the impeachment complaint filed by lawyer Oliver Lozano.

"The President has submitted a defense to the impeachment complaint and this is both her right and a clear expression of her willingness to submit to the legal process," said Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye, also Mrs. Arroyo’s spokesman.

He also chided the opposition for not having their impeachment complaint ready despite their accusations that Mrs. Arroyo cheated to win the May 2004 elections.

"Her detractors have no right to cry foul over a transparent, legitimate defense. Instead of bellyaching, they should just concentrate on consolidating their evidence, which apparently they have failed to do at this time."

Though opposition lawmakers have been quite vocal in their criticism of Mrs. Arroyo, they have not been able to act on an impeachment complaint while Congress is in recess.

The opposition said it would file the amended impeachment petition tomorrow when Congress resumes session.

Through her lawyer Pedro Ferrer, Mrs. Arroyo answered the Lozano complaint before the House of Representatives, which is still in recess, could officially act on it, prompting opposition congressmen to charge the Palace with trying to undermine the impeachment process.

The chamber is scheduled to include the petition in its order of business tomorrow, when the 13th Congress starts its Second Regular Session.

Bunye said Mrs. Arroyo’s reply demonstrated her willingness to clear her name in an impeachment trial.

"If she did not want to undergo the impeachment process, she should not have responded. But the fact that she replied means she was giving the complaint against her importance," he argued. "She took time to answer and even designated a lawyer to file it."

Ferrer objected to allegations that the Palace was trying to derail the impeachment process.

"I take strong exception to the claim by the opposition that my filing was in subversion of the impeachment process," he said. "I ask the opposition not to impute malicious motives to my actions to protect the President’s legal interests, circumscribed as they are by the Constitution."

Lozano’s complaint centers on audiotapes the opposition says prove that Mrs. Arroyo connived with an election official to steal the 2004 poll.

However, opposition legislators say Lozano’s complaint was to be amended to include up to 10 charges, including "cheating, lying and stealing."

They suspect the Palace of trying to undermine their moves to impeach Mrs. Arroyo because, under the rules of court, amendments to a complaint cannot be made without the court’s consent once a complaint has been answered.

Pro-administration congressmen defended Mrs. Arroyo’s legal reply, saying it is her right to defend herself.

"The President or her lawyer did not resort to press conferences to answer the charges unlike the opposition which has been propagating their charges in public to discredit the President," said House Deputy Speaker for Mindanao Gerry Salapuddin.

"It appears that it is they who are preempting the impeachment process through threats of street protests if they don’t get their desired results."

Rep. Antonio Cuenco of Cebu City also criticized the opposition, saying "they have been announcing their charges in public prior to formally filing a case against her. They deprived her of due process by raising accusations against her every now and then. It defies the mandate that an accused shall be presumed innocent until proven guilty."

"This is not a preemption or a monkey wrench, but a matter of right. Why would we deprive the President of her right to defend herself?" said Surigao del Sur Rep. Prospero Pichay.

"I suspect they don’t have enough evidence which is the reason why they are making such a fuss about the President’s answer. They know they have painted themselves into a corner and want to find a graceful way out."

Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman said the opposition "appears phobia-stricken and vacillation-prone in its posturing on impeaching President Arroyo."

The opposition’s release of the audiotapes last month sparked a widespread clamor for Mrs. Arroyo’s removal from office, including calls for her resignation from her own former Cabinet members.

But Mrs. Arroyo refused to step down and continues to deny any wrongdoing. She has also welcomed the impeachment process, saying this would give her a chance to clear her name.

The opposition initially dismissed the impeachment route, hoping to pressure Mrs. Arroyo to leave office through "people power" protests, but later took up the impeachment complaint after rallies drew disappointing crowds.

An endorsement from at least 79 members of the 230-member House is needed to send the impeachment case to the Senate for trial immediately without recourse to lengthy debates in the House.

Aside from the impeachment process, Mrs. Arroyo has said she will appoint an independent "truth commission" to investigate the charges of election fraud.

However, the opposition and even some Mrs. Arroyo allies, have said they are against such a move because such an investigation would take too long and a panel formed by Malacañang would lack credibility. — With Delon Porcalla, AFP.

‘GMA paying price for tough decisions’ The Philippine Star 07/24/2005

Malacañang attributed President Arroyo’s sagging public opinion poll ratings to "tough decisions" made to revitalize the country’s struggling economy. "She paid for it in terms of low survey ratings," Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye said, commenting on a Pulse Asia survey that showed that most Filipinos preferred the administration of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos to that of Mrs. Arroyo.

Despite the low ratings — which found the past four presidents faring worse than former dictator Marcos — Mrs. Arroyo is determined to improve the economy to uplift the lives of Filipinos despite the poll fraud allegations against her and the opposition bid to impeach her, said Bunye. Hee charged the President’s detractors seem to be determined to see her fail, regardless of the cost to the nation. "A genuine leader cannot just be guided by the ebb and flow of public opinion but by a clear plan and the political will to see it through," he said.

The latest findings of the survey are to be released early next week, Pulse Asia research director Felipe Miranda said. According to Miranda, Marcos garnered the highest rating of 7.0 percent among the five past and present leaders, while Mrs. Arroyo received the lowest score of 3.4 percent. He did not reveal how other past presidents — Corazon Aquino, Fidel Ramos and Joseph Estrada — fared to avoid preempting the official release of the survey results.

Marcos was ousted by a military-backed people power revolt in February 1986. He fled to Hawaii, where he died in 1989. Marcos was replaced by Aquino. Bunye said the Arroyo administration is hoping the political crisis will blow over soon so the President could concentrate on doing her job, particularly efforts to improve the plight of the poor.

"Our President is mandated to implement government programs that would uplift the economy, including the lives of our countrymen. The President is trying hard to accomplish this despite the political noise which we hope would soon end." Bunye said Mrs. Arroyo demonstrated her determination to lead the country out of the political bickering by agreeing to create a truth commission to have the poll fraud allegations investigated and submitting her reply to the impeachment complaint filed in the House of Representatives. According to the Palace, the country remains on track in achieving its targets under Mrs. Arroyo’s economic plan.

Phase 1 of her economic reform agenda centered on revenue reforms topped by the passage of higher taxes on tobacco and alcohol products, and the expanded value-added tax law. These reforms got high marks from the International Monetary Fund, which expressed optimism in the country’s economic stability. Bunye said world economic expert Dr. Jeffrey Sachs described Mrs. Arroyo economic plan as "one of the best, if not the best."

He also underscored the gains achieved under the President’s 10-point development program, namely the electrification of 5,260 barangays or a 92.62 percent electrification rate, the highest of any administration; the enrollment of 12.81 million poor Filipinos under the National Health Insurance Program; the establishment of pharmacies that offer affordable medicine to poor barangays; the construction of 10,765 new classrooms and provision of computers to 3,334 public high schools; awarding of P300 million loans to almost 50,000 college students under an education support program; allocation of P1 billion to solve the problems of pre-need education plan holders; and the infusion of P900 million in additional funding for the government’s micro-credit program.

The Arroyo administration has also funded different development projects through government savings that reached P3.47 billion in 2004, and P220 million in the first semester of 2005. For this year alone, 1.09 million new jobs were generated during the first five months of 2005, while the Bureau of Internal Revenue posted an all-time record monthly collection of P63 billion last April. Some administration lawmakers, meanwhile, dismissed the Pulse Asia survey results.

"Who could ever doubt that he accomplished things for the country being in power for 20 years? Two decades is too long for a president to sit idly and do nothing," Isabela Rep. Edwin Uy stressed, referring to Marcos. Uy pointed out that the Marcos dictatorship’s excesses only led to its collapse. "Marcos’s achievements were magnified then because he controlled everything. People were told what to read, watch and what to listen to," Uy said, adding this could not have happened under the present government. "It is completely unfair to compare the authoritarian Marcos regime with the present democratic government where the President gives free rein to even her most irresponsible critics and civil rights and due process are strictly observed."

Bacolod City Rep. Monico Puentevella said the survey actually showed the public’s exasperation with "destructive politics." "Granting without accepting that the result is legitimate, we feel that what the people are fed up with is dirty politics. It’s not even a question of which administration was better, we cannot live in the past. It’s a matter of moving this country forward now and in the future," he said.

About 61 percent of Filipinos said they want President Arroyo out of office amid poll fraud allegations against her, either by resignation, impeachment or unconstitutional means, according to an independent national survey released yesterday. The June 20-23 Pulse Asia survey also found that 22 percent believe Mrs. Arroyo should be allowed to complete her term despite opposition charges that she cheated to win the May 2004 election. Some 1,200 respondents took part in the nationwide survey.

The survey found 28 percent believed "the most beneficial/constructive political scenario" to end the crisis would involve Mrs. Arroyo handing over office to constitutional successor Vice President Noli de Castro. Twenty-two percent said Mrs. Arroyo should be allowed to complete her six-year term, and 20 percent said she should resign and be replaced by a "junta" while 13 percent said she should be removed "using any means whether, constitutional or unconstitutional." — Aurea Calica, Delon Porcalla

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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