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Philippine Official Quits Over US Troop Presence - 2002-07-02

Philippine Vice President Teofisto Guingona has resigned as the country's foreign affairs secretary. The announcement Tuesday ended days of political confusion over differences between President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and her vice president.

After "heart to heart" talks between Teofisto Guingona and President Arroyo, the vice president has decided to step down from his post as foreign secretary. A statement said the resignation "stemmed from an honest difference of opinion concerning policies."

Mr. Guingona, a staunch nationalist, has been against the deployment of more than 1,000 U.S. troops in the southern Philippines, which he said violates the constitution. Monday, President Arroyo announced there would be more joint anti-terrorism exercises with the U.S. military after the current six-month training operation ends on July 31.

The United States deployed forces to help train the Philippine military to fight Abu Sayyaf guerrillas, whom Washington has linked to the al-Qaida terrorist network.

The Arroyo-Guingona policy differences erupted into confusion last week when the president's office announced Mr. Guingona's resignation. The vice president quickly denied the announcement and said forces within the administration were working against him.

Some politicians from the president's political party, Lakas, to which Mr. Guingona also belongs, said the controversy has polarized the party. They said Mr. Guingona may have been a victim of an on-going political deadlock in the Philippine Senate. The administration has been courting opposition leaders with prime cabinet positions to get the majority vote needed to pass major bills.

But administration officials deny the allegations. "Contrary to some reports there are no feelings of disappointment or disenchantment on the president among Lakas party members on the Guingona/DFA resignation," said Gabriel Claudio, a presidential adviser for legislative affairs and a senior Lakas official. "On matters of governance, Lakas will always support the president's decision and action. It is for anybody to do, particularly the opposition to try to connect the Guingona episode to efforts to find a solution to the Senate impasse," Mr. Claudio said.

Mr. Guingona, who will remain the country's vice president, has denied rumors he will run against Ms. Arroyo in the presidential elections in 2004.

The presidential palace has yet to announce Mr. Guingona's replacement.