Earlier reports had suggested that the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) – a politically influential body in the predominantly Roman Catholic Philippines – would call for her resignation during its weekend meeting.
Joselito Zulueta, a writer on Church affairs, told Reuters that the bishops were likely to reiterate calls for the allegations against the president to be fully investigated, but would stop short of urging her to quit.
“Based on my contacts, they’re not going to ask her to resign, not now. They feel that the materials against the president are tainted materials, that they are basically politically motivated.”
A statement, which has already gone through three drafts would likely be issued on Sunday, conference sources said.
Arroyo, whose term runs till 2010, faces allegations that she tried to influence the vote-count in last year’s presidential election and that members of her family took kickbacks from illegal gambling.
She has apologised for a lapse in judgment for talking to an election official last year while the presidential vote was being counted, but has denied any wrong-doing.
Arroyo’s prognosis took a dramatic turn for the worse on Friday when one by one the bastions of the Philippine establishment deserted her: her economic managers, corporate chieftains, civic groups and political allies.
The church has traditionally
The bitterest blow came from an old friend and ally, former president Cory Aquino, who called on Arroyo to make the “supreme sacrifice” because “good and effective government has become an impossible undertaking”.
Officials and analysts said her exit was not a matter of if but when – and how. Few want to see the president bundled out of office in another “people power” revolt.
“That consensus now is that the tipping point has been reached,” said University of Philippines political science professor Alex Magno.
“There is little time to spare. The longer it takes the president to respond to the well-meaning calls for her resignation the direr the scenarios become.”
In Manila, the military and police were on the highest level of alert. General Efren Abu, the military’s chief of staff, has ordered troops not to intervene in the political crisis.
Joseph Estrada was forced from
Fears of military intervention always bubble up in time of political stress in a country that has seen 19 attempted coups or mutinies over the past two decades.
Arroyo is adamant that she will not follow in the footsteps of her predecessor, disgraced president Joseph Estrada, and be forced from office by popular pressure.
“I was duly elected to uphold the constitution,” Arroyo said on government radio on Friday. “I say take your grievances to Congress where I am very willing to submit to due process.”
Two impeachment complaints have been prepared against Arroyo, whose majority in the lower house of Congress is likely to quash any attempt to oust her.
Estrada’s fate – still under house arrest more than four years after his overthrow and on trial for economic plunder – is clearly a deterrent to giving in.
Arroyo, a US-trained economist and considered not very politically savvy, is the daughter of late president Diosdado Macapagal. She was Estrada’s vice-president before being swept into the presidential palace on a “people power” tide.
Philippino protesters have given
Now her own vice-president Noli de Castro, a popular TV news anchorman before he entered the political arena four years ago, is poised to take that route.
Former president Fidel Ramos, one of the few establishment figures still in Arroyo’s corner, has offered a plan that would give her “a graceful exit”.
He has proposed a change in the two-house congressional system that would see Arroyo stay on as caretaker president until fresh elections for a single-chamber parliament in May 2006.
Arroyo, who said on Thursday the political system required fundamental change, has made no secret of her own desire to move to a parliamentary system to speed up passage of laws.
Anti-Arroyo protests have been feeble by Philippine standards with no sign of the rage behind the “people power” uprisings that ousted dictator Ferdinand Marcos in 1986 and Estrada in 2001.
Speaking for eight cabinet members on Friday, Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima said Arroyo, who had demanded resignations from her entire cabinet to give her a fresh start at governing, had pre-empted their plans to quit.
“The longer the president stays in office, under a cloud of doubt and distrust, and with her style of decision-making, the greater the damage,” Purisima said.
The Liberal Party, a government supporter, and the Makati Business Club, which groups the heads of many major companies, said her departure would help get economic reforms back on track and eliminate tensions.