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Phillippine President Moves to Stop Fight over Impeachment Authority

Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo is trying to head off a battle between Congress and the Supreme Court over the constitution. At issue is whether the court can stop lawmakers from impeaching the chief justice.

President Arroyo says she is confident that the Congress and Judiciary will realize that their current battle over impeaching Chief Justice Hilario Davide can only hurt Philippine democracy.

In a statement issued Wednesday, the president called for the two bodies to resolve the impasse according to the rule of law. Ms. Arroyo went on to say that she firmly stands for the separation of powers, which means the Supreme Court alone, has the power to interpret the constitution.

The looming crisis appeared Tuesday when the Supreme Court ordered the House of Representatives not to move on the impeachment complaint against the chief justice until the court has time to rule on its legality.

The complaint alleges Mr. Davide misused some $800,000 in public funds for private use. The chief justice has denied the charge and claims it is politically motivated ahead of next year's elections.

But lawmakers reacted angrily to the Court's temporary staying order on the impeachment complaint. House Speaker Jose de Venecia warned Tuesday that move could cause a constitutional crisis.

"We are trying up till now to respect the decision of the Supreme Court while at the same time ensuring that we elicit the strongest possible legal response," he said. Congressional majority leader, Neptali Gonzales, says the court's order violates legislative power of impeachment.

"By itself the issuance of the status quo order would seemingly be a violation of the separation of power and the fact that we are supposed to be coequal," commented Mr. Gonzales.

Mr. Davide presided over the 2000 impeachment trial of former president Joseph Estrada, who was forced from office amid mass protests before the case could conclude. Chief Justice Davide also ruled that it was legal for then-Vice President Gloria Arroyo to assume the presidency, a ruling that has been repeatedly challenged by Mr. Estrada and his supporters.

Chief Justice Davide and his other high court colleagues have already faced down one impeachment challenge this year by Estrada supporters, who accused the Supreme Court of illegally participating in Mr. Estrada's ouster.

The constitution appears to allow only one impeachment proceeding a year against the same official, which is why the Supreme Court says it needs time to rule on the latest impeachment complaint.