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Street Demonstrations Gaining Momentum in Philippines

Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo is facing the biggest political battle of her presidency, as opposition leaders demand her resignation for alleged vote fixing in last year's presidential election. International observers say the leadership crisis in the Philippines may also be hurting international efforts to combat terrorism.

Observers say the crowds demanding Philippine President Gloria Arroyo's resignation are growing increasingly vocal as opposition leaders threaten impeachment proceedings when the Philippine Congress convenes July 22nd.

International policy experts say the political turmoil in the Philippines could have far-reaching consequences. The Heritage Foundation's Dana Dillon says political instability can promote terrorism.

"The impact of this current crisis is that the president and the government and the military and security forces are all distracted from what would be their normal jobs and focusing (instead) on the political crisis."

The predominantly Muslim south in the Philippines is currently home to several terrorist organizations, including Abu Sayyaf and the Moro Islamic Liberation front, all of which are believed to have links with al-Qaida.

Recently, the U.S. government, which considers the Philippines an important ally in the war on terrorism, criticized Arroyo's withdrawal of Philippine troops from Iraq. Mr. Dillon says it's unlikely the war on terrorism will receive renewed priority as the Philippine president fights for her political survival.

Filipino leaders in the United States say the president's handling of the political scandal has also caused irreparable harm to the country's economy.

Labor Leader Gloria Caoile believes President Arroyo will survive the crisis but says the damage has been done. "It's a total disenchantment in the sense that we expected more and we really believed this new leadership was going to take us in an upswing and move us forward. As it is now, it's like we took ten steps backwards."

More than a third of President Arroyo's cabinet have resigned as a result of the crisis and have asked her to do the same.

President Arroyo vows to fight all efforts to remove her from office and this week urged citizens to back her proposed economic reforms. "The task at hand is to unite and speed up economic growth, spur investment which is the main tasks of economic diplomacy and to keep the confidence of our markets and our trading partners,” said the president in a speech.

One country that's interested in investing in the Philippines is China. President Arroyo recently signed a deal with Beijing to explore resources in the South China Sea. And last year the Chinese government donated engineering equipment and three million dollars to provide Chinese language training for the Philippine military.

Mr. Dillon opined, "As far as they're concerned, they're not investing in the Philippines, they're investing in their political objectives."

The president faces both possible impeachment and large street demonstrations in the weeks and months ahead. "People Power" has brought down two previous Philippine presidents including Mrs. Arroyo's predecessor, President Joseph Estrada.