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Philippine Elections Chief Resigns Over Bribery Allegations


The head of the Philippine elections commission has resigned because of a corruption scandal shaking the administration of Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. Douglas Bakshian reports from Manila.

Benjamin Abalos has been accused of trying to bribe a cabinet official and a businessman to win approval for a $330-million broadband contract with a Chinese company.

He strongly denies the charges. In announcing his resignation Monday he said he is not admitting any wrongdoing or guilt, but is only acting to preserve the Commission on Elections that he heads.

"It is my intention that with my resignation today I shall have detached the Comelec [Commission on Elections] from the controversy in which my person is currently embroiled," he said.

The Philippine Senate has been holding hearings into the bribery allegations concerning the contract with Chinese company ZTE.

Romulo Neri, the former head of an economic planning agency, testified that Abalos offered him about $4 million during a golf game to approve the contract. Neri said he told President Gloria Arroyo about the bribe attempt and was advised not to accept it.

Businessman Joey de Venecia testified that Abalos offered him $10 million to withdraw his bid for the contract. Abalos denies the allegations and has threatened to file libel suits against both men. While he says he did not broker the deal, he has admitted traveling to China to play golf with ZTE executives.

Joey de Venecia is the son of the powerful speaker of the House, Jose de Venecia, an ally of Mrs. Arroyo. Analysts say the issue could become messy if it threatens to split her government.

President Arroyo meantime has suspended the broadband contract.

The Senate vows to continue to investigate the deal despite Abalos' resignation. Joel Rocamora, of the Institute for Popular Democracy, says there will likely be more political fallout.

"I think what's going to happen is that this issue is going to continue. It's not going to be quite like dominoes, but you bring down Abalos and you are moving closer to the president," said Rocamora.

President Arroyo is known as a political survivor. She has defeated two impeachment attempts over allegations of corruption and cheating in the 2004 election, and foiled several alleged coup plots. But analysts say the political landscape is always shifting in the Philippines and it is not clear how much damage this latest scandal will do.