Arroyo impeachment thrown out

Philippine legislators have thrown out all three impeachment charges against President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo despite warnings that the move could worsen a political crisis and spark a new People Power revolt.

    The televised session dragged on for about 23 hours

    The 236-seat House of Representatives - overwhelmingly dominated by pro-Arroyo legislators - voted to uphold the House justice committee's decision to reject the complaints alleging Arroyo rigged last year's election, was involved in corruption and condoned human rights violations.

    The nationally televised session dragged on for about 23 hours - one of the longest ever - and was marked by intense debate and impassioned pleas from opposition lawmakers for justice and fairness.

    Arroyo, who closely followed the debate all night, was ecstatic and thanked Filipinos for not supporting calls to oust her by force.

    "The Filipino people mark a glorious day in history, when instead of forcing a president out of office through 'people power', they chose to keep a president through voting in the halls of constitutional democracy," she said in a statement.

    "The opposition put up a good fight and I now offer my hand in reconciliation for the national interest," she said.

    Arroyo victory

    Although a victory for Arroyo, the decision could prolong the debilitating crisis that has gripped her poor Southeast Asian nation since June and tainted the image of the US-trained economist who has tried to revive the flagging economy during four a half years in office.

    Anti-Arroyo lawmakers stood, then shook hands and embraced each other, one wiping away tears.

    "I'm distressed that we will end up this way by killing the one impeachment complaint that contains a truly substantial case and its evidence, killing a complaint that the president should answer and the public wants her to answer"

    Ronaldo Zamora,
    opposition representative
    and lead impeachment lawyer

    "I'm distressed that we will end up this way by killing the one impeachment complaint that contains a truly substantial case and its evidence, killing a complaint that the president should answer and the public wants her to answer," said opposition Representative Ronaldo Zamora, the lead impeachment lawyer.

    Legislators, many in the same clothes from the start of the session on Monday, were clearly exhausted.

    Some went to their offices, apparently to nap, leaving many seats empty by Tuesday morning.

    "All of us are mentally and physically exhausted," pro-Arroyo Representative Prospero Pichay said.

    Vote-rigging charges

    The vote-rigging accusations against Arroyo emerged in June, based on illegal wiretaps in which she purportedly discussed with an elections commissioner how to ensure a million-vote victory in the closely fought May 2004 election.

    Arroyo apologised for a "lapse in judgment" for talking with an elections official before the poll results were announced, but said she did not influence the count.

    Arroyo's opponents say the impeachment process was the last legal avenue to press her to answer to the charges and close the crisis.

    Even moderate lawmakers had warned that suppressing the complaints could spark another "people power" revolt like those that ousted two presidents in the past two decades - or inspire the military to intervene.

    "This is the last chance for us to pave the rule of law and the constitutional process," opposition spokesman Representative Alan Peter Cayetano said before the debate began.

    "We're saying we can't stop the people."

    People power uprisings

    Presidential spokesman Ignacio Bunye slammed such warnings.

    "For as long as the congressional process is free, fair and transparent, people are expected to abide by the results," he said.

    "To threaten our people with doomsday scenarios is an insult to our people and their political maturity."

    Thousands of people showed up
    at a protest march on Tuesday

    Thousands of people showed up as a new anti-Arroyo coalition, led by pro-democracy icon and former president Corazon Aquino, held a protest march on Tuesday to bolster public support for impeachment.

    Aquino, who co-led the previous "people power" uprisings, has asked Arroyo to resign but had refrained from joining protests until now.

    Metropolitan Manila police chief Vidal Querol said the capital's 16,000-strong police force was put on full alert indefinitely late on Sunday to keep law and order.

    Anti-Arroyo protesters clashed with riot police last week, injuring 26 people.

    Fiery rhetoric

    For the vote, each lawmaker had three minutes to speak, and they spiced fiery rhetoric with quotes from the Bible, Shakespeare, Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels and Myanmar's pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

    "I will never sell my soul to the devil," said Representative Robert "Ace" Barbers, alluding to allegations that Arroyo's camp offered money and government posts to legislators for their votes.

    A religious lawmaker, Representative Bienvenido Abante Junior, loudly read Bible passages to warn anti-Arroyo legislators threatening to take to the streets that they would be harshly judged by God.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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