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Philippine Bishops Criticize President, Do Not Demand Resignation

After days of deliberations, influential Catholic bishops in the Philippines have said they will not call on President Gloria Arroyo to step down over allegations of vote-rigging in the 2004 elections.

A statement issued Sunday by the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines says they will not demand Mrs. Arroyo resign.

But the conference president, Archbishop Fernando Capalla, says this does not mean Mrs. Arroyo should ignore calls to step down, or for an enquiry into allegations of election fraud.

"We declare our prayerfully discerned collective decision, that we do not demand her resignation," he said. "Yet, neither do we encourage her simply to dismiss such a call from others. For we recognize that non-violent appeals for her resignation, the demand for a Truth Commission and the filing of an impeachment case are not against the gospel."

The Roman Catholic Church is hugely influential in this largely Catholic country. On Sunday, the bishops said their role was not to meddle in politics, but to be moral guides.

Analysts say Mrs. Arroyo's presidency would have had little chance of survival, if the bishops had asked her to resign.

In reaction to the bishops' statement, Mrs. Arroyo says she has "read every line and between the lines."

"I've searched deeply for moral discernment," she said. "The second letter of Saint Paul to the Corinthians rings true for me. 'I cannot boast about myself, except about my weaknesses.' But I know, in faith, and in my own weakness, this power can be made perfect in me, to help me become the servant president for you."

Gloria Arroyo
Last week, Mrs. Arroyo's entire economic team resigned en masse, joining other former political and business allies in demanding her resignation.

Archbishop Capalla says Mrs. Arroyo should now examine her conscience to see whether she can still run the government, while under a cloud of suspicion.

"We would ask the president to discern deeply to what extent she might have contributed to the erosion of effective governance and whether the erosion is so severe as to be irreversible," he said.

Mrs. Arroyo has publicly apologized for impropriety in phoning an independent election commissioner during last year's presidential election, but has denied rigging the vote.