MANILA, August 11, 2005
(STAR) Malacañang Wednesday is not amenable to critical calls for President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to take a leave of absence amidst the impeachment process of the House of Representatives and the Senate jueteng probe hearings.

In a statement, Press Secretary Ignacio R. Bunye said, "The suggestion for the President to take a leave is both unwarranted and unacceptable in the absence of proof against her for any violation of law."

"The impeachment process is already in place. Let us just allow it to take its course in Congress," Bunye said.

"Meanwhile, let the President do her job which is to run the affairs of the nation, especially in stewarding the economy thru these challenging times," he added.

The House committee on justice is currently deliberating on three impeachment complaints filed against the Chief Executive. However, the committee suspended its hearings this morning due to debates over the process.

Likewise, the Senate is presently interrogating Capt. Marlon Mendoza, the newest witness to surface on the jueteng payola scandal.

Palace: GMA won’t go on leave The Philippine Star 08/11/2005

There is no need for President Arroyo to take a leave of absence during the impeachment process, Malacañang insisted yesterday.

In rejecting renewed calls by the opposition for Mrs. Arroyo to go on hiatus to prevent her from possibly influencing the outcome of the proceedings, Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye said this would be "unwarranted and unacceptable," as there was no proof yet that she violated any law.

But Bishop Antonio Tobias of Novaliches and the opposition in the House of Representatives claimed Mrs. Arroyo could obstruct the impeachment proceedings.

"The impeachment process is already in place. Let us just allow it to take its course in Congress," Bunye said. "Meanwhile, let the President do her job which is to run the affairs of the nation, especially in stewarding the economy through these challenging times."

Mrs. Arroyo was in Southern Leyte yesterday where she attended the province’s fifth founding anniversary.

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita also pointed out the President had every right to be present to defend herself in the impeachment hearings, both politically and legally.

"You have to do everything to protect your interest," Ermita said. He was reacting to reports that Mrs. Arroyo and her allies in the House were trying to kill the impeachment complaint.

"You may call us lapdogs, but we’re doing everything to help her out because we believe that she did not violate any law," Ermita said.

Tobias said Mrs. Arroyo should take a leave of absence from the start of deliberations on the impeachment complaint until the process is finished.

He said this would be the only way to "let the rule of law take its course."

"I ask you, do not obstruct the impeachment proceedings and appeal to your allies to do the same. The call to greatness is for you to go on a leave of absence," Tobias said.

It would also be easier for Mrs. Arroyo to appeal to her House allies to keep the process fair and objective if she were on leave, as this would be the only way to dispel speculations that majority members would do anything to favor the President during the impeachment process, Tobias said.

"And so she says, ‘All right, let the impeachment come in so that I will not be suspected of obstructing justice. Let me go on a leave of absence and let the rule of law takes its course,’" Tobias said. "Am I asking too much, my dear President? Or am I dreaming? Am I asking too much of our public servants or you’re also hiding your own agenda?"

Mrs. Arroyo is battling allegations that she cheated her way to victory in last year’s presidential election. She had admitted phoning an election official during the vote count but denies rigging the outcome.

She had rejected calls for her resignation but has welcomed an impeachment challenge to clear her name.

Opposition congressmen filed an impeachment complaint on July 25, the same day Mrs. Arroyo delivered her annual State of the Nation Address, in which she called for amendments to the Constitution and a shift to a parliamentary, federal form of government to speed up the country’s economic recovery efforts.

The opposition had initially shunned the idea of impeachment, anticipating Arroyo allies would try to block it.

They had hoped to pressure Mrs. Arroyo to leave office through "people power" protests, but decided to make an impeachment bid after anti-Arroyo protest 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.

But the complaint initially received backing only from 41 congressmen and was referred to the House committee on justice for deliberation. The panel will then decide whether to endorse the complaint to the full House for a vote or junk it outright. — Aurea Calica, Miriam Garcia Desacada

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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