[PHOTO AT LEFT - WAR FOOTING: President Arroyo hits Senate investigations which she says are ‘in aid of destabilization’ during a speech marking the 18th anniversary of the ‘Kaanak ng Mga Bayani’ at Malacañang’s Heroes Hall yesterday. Photo By Willy Perez]

MANILA, October 1, 2005 (STAR) By Aurea Calica - President Arroyo virtually declared war on the Senate yesterday, branding it a kangaroo court trying to destabilize her administration by abusing its investigative powers purportedly to unmask corruption.

She accused the opposition of "shifting the battleground to the Senate" after her allies in the House of Representatives crushed an impeachment bid against her last month.

Mrs. Arroyo accused the Senate of creating "confusion leading to a situation where it is easy to have a power grab."

"Yes, we all want the truth, but the truth must be found in the forums where the rule of law is observed, where the rules of evidence are observed, where those accused have a right to present their own defense in accordance with time-tested regulations," Mrs. Arroyo said before a gathering of descendants of Filipino revolutionaries who rose up against Spanish colonial rule.

"I ask for your support as I put my foot down for the sake of the people. For the sake of enabling the government to work rather than be disabled by the politics of insult that are done in these inquiries in aid of destabilization, where the situation is manipulated by projecting speculation, hearsay and half-truths as proven facts in contribution to those who want to grab power," she said.

Mrs. Arroyo made a pitch for her plan to amend the Constitution and change the country’s system of government from a presidential to a parliamentary setup, saying the current "poisoned political system" leaves opportunities for "those who seek, in fact, to use the situation to grab power."

"We will not allow this to happen. We will not let them waste the sacrifices of your ancestors," she told the gathering.

"I appreciate all of you for your true and sincere patriotism so worthy of your ancestors. We have to put our foot down and I ask you to stand and be counted as guardians of the law and civility in a democratic society that works for the people rather than impedes their prosperity," the Chief Executive said.

Mrs. Arroyo complained that her administration’s efforts to revitalize the economy were being threatened by the deepening political crisis.

"But we must let the sense of nationhood prevail," she said.

Yesterday, Presidential Spokesman and Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye accused Senate President Franklin Drilon of plotting her ouster through a series of legislative inquiries purportedly to uncover corruption.

For several months, senators have been probing allegations that Mrs. Arroyo’s husband, son and brother-in-law received payoffs from illegal gambling operators. This week, the Senate opened another investigation into wiretapped recordings allegedly detailing Mrs. Arroyo’s efforts to rig last year’s polls with former election commissioner Virgilio Garcillano.

The recordings, which emerged in June, served as a basis for an opposition bid to impeach Mrs. Arroyo in the House on charges of electoral fraud, bribery, corruption and other allegations.

But the House, dominated by pro-Arroyo lawmakers, threw out the impeachment charges last month, and opposition leaders vowed to expose evidence of her alleged wrongdoing through Senate investigations.

Last week, a Senate committee began hearings on the government’s contract with American lobby firm Venable LLP, which sought US funding for Mrs. Arroyo’s initiative to amend the Constitution.

On Thursday, the Senate added another investigation to its roster, this time of a contract for a China-funded railway project being pushed by Mrs. Arroyo but which the opposition claims is illegal.

"The purpose of these investigations is to weaken the President and eventually to oust her, and part of this plot is no less than Senate President Franklin Drilon," Bunye said.

Drilon, along with his Liberal Party mates, had earlier called on Mrs. Arroyo to resign.

The Senate investigations are meant to help legislators craft laws, but Bunye said they had become an exercise "in aid of destabilization."

Drilon, an erstwhile Arroyo ally, joined a chorus of former Cabinet members and former President Corazon Aquino in July calling for her resignation.

Bunye said Drilon had been plotting to oust Mrs. Arroyo as early as June, when the wiretaps of Mrs. Arroyo allegedly speaking with an election official to secure a million-vote victory margin first emerged.

He said that Drilon, while still part of the Arroyo camp, persuaded her to publicly apologize for talking to the election official before the vote count was completed, but then used this admission against her.

Mrs. Arroyo has apologized for a "lapse in judgment," but denied manipulating the outcome of the polls.

She further angered her critics this week by issuing Executive Order No. 464 barring officials from testifying in Congress without her consent, prompting opposition leaders to accuse her of violating the Constitution.

Malacañang aides say the Senate was abusing its powers and denied she violated any laws. Local Support Provincial governors reiterated their backing for Mrs. Arroyo yesterday, announcing a nationwide signature campaign to dramatize their support in the face of "another furious attempt by opposition forces to destabilize the incumbent government and seize political power."

After meeting in Vigan, Ilocos Sur, they agreed to broker a meeting between Mrs. Arroyo and senators to avert a possible constitutional clash following the issuance of EO 464, which lawmakers condemned as an infringement of Congress’ oversight powers.

"We fully support Malacañang’s position on the issuance of EO 464," said Bohol Gov. Erico Aumentado, president of the League of Provinces of the Philippines.

They hope such a meeting would provide a "necessary breathing spell."

The governors plan to gather more than five million signatures to show public support for Mrs. Arroyo, who appears to enjoy strong backing among local officials. — With AP

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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