Hoping to draw a line under a months-old crisis that nearly unseated her, members of a Congressional lower house committee voted on Tuesday to treat three impeachment complaints against her as separate.
That paves the way for the panel, which is stacked with Arroyo supporters, to formally pick the weakest of the three complaints on Wednesday and then dismiss it as “lacking in form or substance”.
Luis Villafuerte, a staunch Arroyo ally, said the ruling coalition would push through with the committee proceedings on Wednesday to formally bar the two other impeachment complaints.
“As long as we have a quorum, we will continue with our jobs,” he said.
An opposition lawmaker, Teodoro Casino, joined three dozen colleagues in tossing their papers in the air and leaving the session hall in protest at the vote.
“We will not be a party to this kind of sham,” he said.
But while Arroyo is now out of the danger of two months ago, when desertions by allies took her to the brink, an embittered opposition and lingering doubts over her legitimacy look set to haunt her four-year-old presidency for some time.
“We will not be a party to this kind of sham”
The opposition could still impeach her and trigger a Senate trial by gathering 79 votes in a full session of the lower house, but it remains short of that number.
One opposition leader, Alan Peter Cayetano, said they needed about eight more signatures in order to persuade other lawmakers to come forward and take the number over 79. He admitted that would be tough.
“It will be game over as far as that constitutional avenue of addressing the grievances against a president,” he said.
“But we don’t think it will be game over so far as the struggle to reveal the truth and to remove a president we don’t think is fit.”
Arroyo’s allies can block further opposition attempts to impeach her, because only one impeachment complaint can be taken up against the same official in a single year.
Arroyo, who denies allegations she tried to fix last year’s election in which she won a fresh six-year term, is eager to end the crisis before high-profile visits to Saudi Arabia and the United Nations in New York next month.
But she may only have delayed the showdown with the opposition, which is still bitter over her rise from vice-president in 2001 on the back of protests that ousted her predecessor Joseph Estrada.
“Impeachment is here to stay,” said Ralph Recto, an administration senator.
“It will be resurrected annually. What we are seeing is not the end but the beginning of a five-year war.”
Arroyo’s opponents had earlier tried to breathe life into the dying attempt to unseat her, accusing her of telling allies to endorse the initial, legally weakest impeachment complaint that was doomed to fail.