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Philippine President Calls for Parliamentary System as Impeachment Motion Filed

Embattled Philippine President Gloria Arroyo has urged Congress Monday to consider a sweeping overhaul of government - shifting from a U.S.-style presidency to a parliamentary system. Mrs. Arroyo made the call in her annual state of the nation address, in which she avoided any mention that opposition lawmakers had just filed an impeachment motion against her for election fraud.

President Arroyo gave her annual state of the nation address Monday to Congress - where hours earlier opposition lawmakers filed an impeachment motion against her.

To a standing ovation, Mrs. Arroyo called for a "great debate" on constitutional reform for the political system - which she says is blocking the economy from "taking off."

"The system clearly needs fundamental change and the sooner the better," she said. "It is time to start the great debate on charter change."

In a 20-minute speech, Mrs. Arroyo was short on specifics, but suggested the presidential system was incapable of effecting meaningful change and should be replaced by a more balanced parliamentary form of government.

"The political system has degenerated to the extent that it's difficult for anyone to make any headway yet keep his hands clean," she said.

This was the president's only reference to political corruption and she did not address current graft and election-rigging charges mentioned in the impeachment motion filed against her earlier in the day.

Calls for her resignation have been growing since June when a tape surfaced allegedly capturing a telephone conversation between Mrs. Arroyo and an election official. In the conversation, the election official is asked how the president can secure a million vote margin. Mrs. Arroyo won the 2004 race by about a million votes.

The president admits a judgment lapse, but denies any wrongdoing.

Opposition Congressman Alan Cayetano says it is not clear if the impeachment motion will pass but says it reflects widespread frustration with the president's alleged misuse of power.

"We're coming up with a battle cry of cheating, stealing and lying. Basically all of the allegations will fall under that," he said.

Thousands of protesters demanding President Arroyo's ouster gathered near the Congress while she spoke Monday afternoon.