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Arroyo Stands By Impeached Supreme Court Judge - 2003-10-27

Philippine President Gloria Arroyo is seeking to avert a political crisis triggered by the impeachment of the country's chief Supreme Court judge.

Mrs. Arroyo gave her support to beleaguered Supreme Court Chief Justice Hilario Davide Monday by attending a mass at the Supreme Court complex. Congress impeached Mr. Davide last week for alleged misuse of hundreds of thousands of dollars in Supreme Court funds.

Ms. Arroyo says her government is taking steps to avert a clash between the legislative and judiciary branches. She warned that arguing Mr. Davide's case would divert attention from key legislative issues. That could potentially divide the nation in the run-up to elections in May.

"While the executive may not interfere in the merits of an issue involving co-equal branches of governments, it is not out of line for the presidency to facilitate a principled solution," says Mrs. Arroyo.

Congressional Speaker Jose de Venecia and other lawmakers said they are working toward a compromise settlement to the crisis, but no details were released. If no agreement is reached, Mr. Davide will then face trial before the Senate.

Congressional allies of businessman and politician Danding Cojuangco initiated Mr. Davide's impeachment. It came after the Supreme Court's recent ruling against some of Mr. Cojuangco's business interests.

Hundreds of Mr. Davide's supporters, led by former president Corazon Aquino and Catholic church leaders, protested Monday outside Congress.

"This is the last decent institution holding us together," says Activist priest Robert Reyes who was among the demonstrators. "So we have to do everything, not only to preserve Justice Davide, but to preserve the integrity of the Supreme Court."

Mr. Davide would be the second senior government official to be impeached by Congress since former president Joseph Estrada was impeached in 2000. At that time, Chief Justice Davide presided over Mr. Estrada's impeachment trial. That trial ended abruptly amid political bickering in the Senate. Mr. Estrada was eventually ousted amid mass protests and President Arroyo was installed into power.