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Philippines: Impeachment of Chief Justice Defeated - 2003-11-11


Philippine President Gloria Arroyo has welcomed a vote by the House of Representatives to accept a Supreme Court ruling that quashes an effort to impeach the chief justice. Mrs. Arroyo's response follows an all-night session by the legislators to resolve what was shaping up as a constitutional crisis.

Mrs. Arroyo Tuesday praised the vote in the House of Representatives, calling it a historic win for the Philippine people.

The president's statement, which urges leaders of all three branches of government to resume work on political reform, poverty alleviation and law and order. "Let us all gather together behind the law and the constitution. The entire government has spoken and I call for conciliatory statesmanship among all leaders," Mrs. Arroyo said in her statement.

The House, in a session that ended just before dawn Tuesday, defeated efforts by a group of opposition congressmen to send the impeachment request to the Senate for trial.

The congressmen three weeks ago signed the impeachment complaint against Supreme Court Chief Justice Hilario Davide, accusing him of misusing nearly $1 million of court money. The chief justice denied the charge, calling it politically motivated.

The Supreme Court ruled Monday that the complaint violated a constitutional ban on more than one impeachment complaint per year against an official. A group tried to impeach Justice Davide last June on a different charge, but this was blocked by the House.

Despite the court's Monday ruling, a group of congressmen had vowed to move ahead with their impeachment petition, raising fears of a constitutional crisis. The dispute rattled financial markets, and caused the armed forces to be placed on high alert.

Tuesday's vote at least temporarily calms the political waters. Cabinet Secretary Saludo says the vote shows the legislative and executive branches of government can unite behind the law as interpreted by the judiciary. "We believe this has strengthened our democracy and our institutions," he says. "We went through a period of a test-of-wills among major institutions, the key institutions of government. And we've come through it in a way that preserves the prerogatives and powers of each one."

Despite the relief in the corridors of government, Philippine political observers say they expect to see other challenges to the Arroyo government as political campaigning intensifies for presidential elections next May.

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