Arroyo: Sorry I called election official

Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has apologised for talking with an election official about her hope for a million-vote margin in last year's ballot, but said she did nothing wrong and would not step down.

    The president is not heeding calls for her to step down

    In a nationally televised speech on Monday, Arroyo appealed for unity as she addressed the three-week-old political crisis over the wiretapped phone chat that has sparked calls for her to resign with five years left on her term.

    "I recognise that making any such call was a lapse in judgment," Arroyo said. "I am sorry. I also regret taking so long to speak before you on this matter."

    "I take full responsibility for my actions. To you and to all those good citizens who may have had their faith shaken by this event, I want to assure you that I have redoubled my efforts to serve the nation and earn your trust.

    "I recognise that making any such call was a lapse in judgment. I am sorry ...

    I want to close this chapter and move on with the business of governing"

    Gloria Arroyo,
    Philippine president

    "I want to close this chapter and move on with the business of governing," she added.

    But it was far from clear whether Arroyo's statement would appease the opposition and leftist groups that have allied against her and held street protests.

    Several House of Representatives committees began hearings last week on the wiretap tapes.


    A lawyer critical of the government, Oliver Lozano, filed an impeachment complaint against Arroyo at the House, calling her a "bogus president" on Monday while accusing her of violating the constitution by cheating in the elections and betraying the public's trust.

    The opposition has staged daily
    protests against the president 

    Meanwhile, Environment Secretary Mike Defensor, a close Arroyo aide, said shortly before the speech that "for the people, they would accept what she would say, but for those who want her out of power, they would make a telenovela (Spanish for prime time soap opera) out of this".

    Arroyo spokesman Ignacio Bunye also said it was time to move on. "There is nothing illegal here," Bunye said in a statement. "The only value in pursuing this at this point is political embarrassment."

    "No doubt her detractors will continue to stoke the controversy for their own personal gain. But for most reasonable people, this issue is not behind us," Bunye said.

    Unstable times

    The scandal erupted early this month as Arroyo was grappling with daunting problems, including rising oil prices, a huge budget deficit and security issues that have forced her to take unpopular steps such as levying new taxes.

    Her popularity rating has plunged to a record low.

    She has also been buffeted by accusations that her son and brother-in-law, both members of Congress, pocketed huge illegal gambling payoffs. The two have strongly denied the allegations.

    The prospects for the complaint were difficult to ascertain. At least one member of the 236-member Congress has to endorse the complaint if it is to be considered for discussion.

    Lawmakers have been debating whether the recordings, reportedly illegal wiretaps by military intelligence agents, could be used in legal proceedings.

    A small group of left-wing activists protested on Monday near the Malacanang presidential palace, calling on Arroyo to step down. Another group staged a candlelight protest in Manila timed with Arroyo's statement.

    Opposition groups have staged almost daily demonstrations against Arroyo, but they have not matched the huge "people power" protests that led to the downfalls of late president Ferdinand Marcos in 1986 and Arroyo's predecessor, former president Joseph Estrada, in 2001.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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