, July 30, 2005
(STAR) By Aurea Calica - After being pummeled for weeks with accusations, embattled President Arroyo has gone on a media offensive, defending her proposal to have the Constitution amended and attacking opposition efforts to unseat her.

In the third straight day of media interviews, Mrs. Arroyo lamented that she has been subjected to "trial by publicity" over charges that she rigged last year’s election and that her family took bribes from illegal gambling syndicates.

Mrs. Arroyo argued that the Constitution must be changed and the country’s form of government must be shifted to a parliamentary system free of the gridlock that critics say make the current system ineffective.

"Imagine if president after president is destroyed by trial by publicity, overthrown, impeached, (subjected to) people power, because some sector did not like what he did," she said in a free-ranging radio interview with dzRH yesterday.

Citing the situation in Myanmar, where activists are fighting for democracy, Mrs. Arroyo mused that "in Myanmar, if they are working to strengthen democracy, in the Philippines, we are weakening our democracy so that it becomes anarchy."

"It is (turning into) anarchy and everybody gets tainted to survive. Our democracy should not be like that. We should make this even stronger and not waste it, being the first and oldest in the whole of Asia," she said.

It was the latest in a series of media appearances since the lingering political crisis over opposition allegations of electoral fraud began in early June.

Mrs. Arroyo met with selected local reporters on Wednesday in what many say was a "stage-managed media event" that backfired when foreign media were asked to leave because they had not been invited.

In her State of the Nation Address last Monday, Mrs. Arroyo signaled the start of "the great debate on Charter change" and called on Congress to consider rewriting the 1987 Constitution to change the form of government from the existing unitary, US-style presidential system to a federal, parliamentary system.

Such a move would fuse the legislative and executive branches of government and help stop gridlock caused by quarrels between the president and the bicameral Congress, Mrs. Arroyo said.

"In the parliamentary, there is fusion, (executive and legislative) are one body so there is only one direction," she told dzRH radio. "As long as we have the current deteriorating system, the political crisis will never end."

She brushed aside opposition claims that her Charter change proposal was intended to distract attention from the political crisis, saying debate on the Constitution was "more constructive than the political noise emanating from the media-lynching and trial by publicity" against her.

‘Give Me A Chance’

"They would continue to try to bring me down and I hope the people would give me a chance to show them that everything I do is for them," the President said.

The allegations over cheating and other anomalies have resulted in a widespread clamor for Mrs. Arroyo’s removal from office.

But after failing to oust her with street protests, the opposition filed an impeachment complaint in the House of Representatives last Monday.

Mrs. Arroyo has refused to resign and has welcomed the impeachment complaint as a chance to clear her name.

In her interview, Mrs. Arroyo also cited the congressional investigations into allegations of her cheating and links to illegal gambling, saying it had perpetuated "this system of false witnesses, who can talk with impunity, (with) no examination of their probative value."

"This is not the fault of one person. This has deteriorated over the years so that even the rights of the president are not respected," she said.

Mrs. Arroyo did not refer directly to the impeachment case against her but denied accusations that she had personally overseen the delivery of payoffs from illegal gambling syndicates.

It was alleged that regional election officials received P2 million in bribes to rig the polls, in her presence, in a Manila hotel room.

"No one has given any bribe in my presence, that’s all I can say," she said. "But enough said because I am an accused and I should heed the advice of my lawyers not to speak about the charges against me."

Mrs. Arroyo is embroiled in her worst political crisis since taking power after massive protests ousted scandal-tainted President Joseph Estrada in 2001.

She has apologized for speaking to an election official before she was declared the winner of the May 2004 ballot, but denied manipulating the count.

Some members of her own Cabinet, business groups, activist organizations, the political opposition and former President Corazon Aquino, a former ally, have demanded her resignation.

Tens of thousands joined street protests, but the crowds have only amounted to a fraction of those that toppled late dictator Ferdinand Marcos 1986 and Estrada in 2001.

Opposition lawmakers on Monday filed an impeachment complaint against Arroyo for allegedly violating the Constitution, betraying public trust, corruption and bribery. They urged her to resign to avoid a painful Senate trial, claiming they have plenty of witnesses and piles of documentary evidence to bring her down.

Mrs. Arroyo earlier asked her husband and son to leave the country after they were both accused of receiving illegal gambling payoffs, along with her brother-in-law.

Despite her recent political upsets, Mrs. Arroyo has still managed to impress on the international stage — she was named the world’s fourth most powerful woman by Forbes magazine yesterday. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice topped the list.

Meanwhile, Sen. Manuel Villar defended Mrs. Arroyo yesterday from criticism on her media offensive, saying there was nothing wrong with reaching out to the public.

Cebu City Rep. Antonio Cuenco likewise defended Mrs. Arroyo from opposition accusations that her Charter change calls were only a diversion. He said Mrs. Arroyo disclosed as early as last year that she wanted a shift to a parliamentary form of government. — With AFP, AP, Christina Mendez, Lino dela Cruz

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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