, OCTOBER 12, 2007 (STAR) By Paolo Romero - A total of 190 administration lawmakers gathered for a breakfast meeting with President Arroyo yesterday to iron out party differences.

Congressmen-members of the Lakas-Christian and Muslim Democrats and the Kabalikat ng Malayang Pilipino trooped to the Palace to tackle the reported rift in the administration coalition, the proposed P1.227-trillion national budget, and the impeachment case against Mrs. Arroyo.

Speaker Jose de Venecia Jr. said it was Mrs. Arroyo who invited them to the meeting since Congress would be on recess starting today. The House has 240 members.

He said the breakfast gathering “resolved lingering doubts about the stability and strength of the majority.”

De Venecia said the chances of the impeachment complaint succeedingwould depend on the evidence presented to the committee on justice.

“I don’t think she’s very concerned with the impeachment charge,” he said.

“The Constitution is clear that it has to be transmitted (to the committee) whether it’s flimsy or substantial or destined for the garbage can,” he said.

Ilocos Norte Rep. Roque Ablan said the meeting was also “a show of force” for Mrs. Arroyo.

“This impeachment complaint is a distraction that the President can and will ignore,” Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye said.

“She has a nation to govern and there are other more important matters, which she has to attend to,” he said.

Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Sergio Apostol, who is also a Lakas official said he expects the impeachment bid to fail. “It’s a numbers game and second, the complaint is groundless,” Apostol said.

He also dismissed reports that there is a rift between Mrs. Arroyo and De Venecia.

“Malacañang has no plans to have him replaced though there are people who wanted to topple him but we do not support them so there is status quo in the (House) leadership,” he said.

Interior and Local Government Secretary and KAMPI chairman Ronaldo Puno said he remains supportive of De Venecia.

“Some parties are trying to make me look bad before the Speaker and his family. But at least my actions speak louder than words. I have long been a supporter of Speaker Jose de Venecia. I would like to think I have shown I have worked for unity in the House,” Puno said.

JDV inhibits self

Barely 10 hours after the lawmakers’ breakfast meeting with Mrs. Arroyo, House leaders submitted the impeachment case to the justice committee.

It was the impeachment case filed by lawyer Roel Pulido, which critics of Mrs. Arroyo claimed was actually designed to fail and give the president another one-year reprieve.

De Venecia also said he is inhibiting himself from the deliberation on the impeachment case.

He said that since Pulido “has also accused me of unethical practice before the House Ethics Committee and the Ombudsman, I believe that I should have no participation whatsoever in the disposal of this complaint.”

“I have therefore decided to voluntarily inhibit myself from any participation involving this impeachment complaint,” he said.

“I should like you to discharge my functions today, Oct. 11, 2007, only for the purpose of properly disposing of the impeachment complaint,” De Venecia told Deputy Speaker Raul Del Mar.

“Let me emphasize that my only reason for inhibiting myself is to avoid any complications of conflict of interest that may arise, considering that the same complainant also filed similar charges against my person,” De Venecia stressed.

Minutes after receiving De Venecia’s instruction, Del Mar asked the committee on rules chaired by Majority Leader Arthur Defensor to include the Pulido petition in the House Order of Business for last night.

Laguna Rep. Edgar San Luis, who endorsed the Pulido complaint, said it was unfair for some of his colleagues to insinuate that he accepted bribes in exchange for endorsing the petition.

Meeting inappropriate

Senators expressed concern over Mrs. Arroyo’s breakfast meeting with congressmen, with Senate majority leader Francis Pangilinan likening the incident to “a prosecutor striking an agreement with an accused.”

Sen. Panfilo Lacson said De Venecia might have been forced to inhibit himself from impeachment proceedings for fear of losing his leadership.

“Without prejudging the House of Representatives and the impeachment complaint, I observed that the Pulido impeachment only had three-pages. It was way beyond the thick impeachment complaint we filed against the President in 2005,” Sen. Francis Escudero said.

“It was improper then for the President to meet with congressmen at the height of the impeachment raps, it remains improper today,” Escudero said. – with Jess Diaz and Christina Mendez

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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