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Impeachment Effort Against Philippine President Faltering


A Philippine congressional committee has struck down all impeachment complaints against President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. Presidential opponents may still move the impeachment complaint to the Senate, if one-third of the lawmakers in the House support that. But they do not have the votes. The move appears to deal a blow to the opposition, which analysts say is now likely to resort to street protests.

The two-day debate before the Justice Committee of the lower House of the Philippine Congress was dramatic, including quotes from the Bible and an opposition walkout.

Congressman Agapito Aquino, arguing for impeachment, compared the current issues to the murder two decades ago of his brother, Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino, which led to the downfall of President Ferdinand Marcos.

"Unless we decide to fight for the truth today, then we become conspirators in the murder of the truth," said Agapito Aquino. "It is uncanny that Ninoy was buried on August 31, 22 years ago. Today is August 31. Are we going to bury the truth today?"

With most of the opposition boycotting the proceedings, however, President Gloria Arroyo's allies on the committee voted down the second of two impeachment complaints against her Wednesday. The House panel endorsed only the form of a third complaint, but later rejected it on grounds of substance.

President Arroyo is accused of fixing last year's presidential election. She denies the charges, and her allies call the impeachment move an act of desperation by an opposition that has lost political momentum.

Assuming the impeachment movement falters, the opposition is expected to turn to street demonstrations, similar to the "people power" protests that ousted Mr. Marcos in 1986 and Mrs. Arroyo's immediate predecessor, Joseph Estrada, in 2001. Scattered protests took place inside and outside of Congress during this week's debate.

However, the public has so far shown little interest in driving another president from office. Ramon Casiple, executive director of the Institute for Political and Electoral Reforms, says mobilizing the masses would not be easy.

"It will be long and drawn-out this time," he said. "I don't think the opposition will be able to muster an immediate critical mass."

But, Mr. Casiple told VOA, if Mrs. Arroyo does not resign or make peace with the opposition, doubts over her legitimacy will undermine her presidency.

"The crisis will again emerge, maybe at the end of the year," he said. "I don't think she will be capable of governing until the end of her term. It will just be one crisis after another."

The crisis began when tapes were released earlier this year of Mrs. Arroyo talking with an election official during the 2004 vote count.

She admitted a lapse in judgment and apologized to the public, but the opposition and even some of her allies have since called for an end to her presidency.

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