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Embattled Philippine Leader Promises Political Reform

Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has promised a major overhaul of the country's political system on Tuesday, as she continues to fight calls for her resignation.

Mrs. Arroyo told party leaders the country's political system has "degenerated to the point that it needs fundamental changes." "What I intend to do is work with you, the legislators, and the civil groups who believe that changes in the fundamental law of the land are necessary in order to confront such basic issues as federalism, [and a] parliamentary form of government," she said.

Seventeen political parties, including Mrs. Arroyo's own Lakas party, had presented her with proposals for constitutional changes and possible new elections.

House Speaker Jose De Vencia, chairman of Tuesday's political meeting, says the group will ask Congress to convene a constitution-drafting body as soon as it meets on July 25.

Mrs. Arroyo is fighting for her political life following a week that saw the resignation of 10 cabinet members, and major political and business allies calling for her ouster.

The crisis was sparked by audiotapes in which a woman who sounds like Mrs. Arroyo appears to ask an election official to make sure she wins the 2004 elections by a million-vote margin.

The 58-year-old president has denied any wrongdoing, but acknowledges talking to an election official. She called it a "lapse in judgment."

Among those calling for Mrs. Arroyo's resignation is the influential former president, Corazon Aquino.

Another former president, Fidel Ramos, has proposed Mrs. Arroyo stay on to oversee a change to a parliamentary system, followed by new elections next year. Mr. Ramos's proposal is similar to that made by the 17 political parties.

Also on Tuesday, Mrs. Arroyo appointed a new finance secretary as she re-forms her Cabinet. "The cabinet will be given a free hand on governance while I focus on the fundamental changes that we need to put in place," she said.

Police estimate about 3,000 demonstrators gathered in Manila's financial district to call for Mrs. Arroyo to resign.

Protests against Mrs. Arroyo have been much smaller than the "people power" demonstrations that brought down presidents Ferdinand Marcos in 1986 and Joseph Estrada in 2001.