Tue, Nov 11, 2003 - Page 1 News List

Philippines constitutional crisis looms

REUTERS , MANILA

The Philippines faced a constitutional crisis yesterday as the Supreme Court ruled that a bid to impeach the country's top judge was unlawful, setting the stage for a showdown between Congress and the judiciary.

The ruling comes as investors fret about volatility in the country ahead of elections in May next year.

The impeachment attempt has prompted street protests and divided the country along familiar lines -- supporters of ousted president Joseph Estrada have backed it, while the Catholic Church and former president Corazon Aquino have led rallies against it.

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo had said earlier the Supreme Court's ruling should be honored, as her party held last-minute talks to persuade lawmakers to withdraw backing for the complaint.

A court spokesman said 13 out of 14 justices had decided the impeachment was unconstitutional because it was the second such complaint against chief justice Hilario Davide in a year.

The constitution allows no more than one impeachment complaint against the same official in a year.

Analysts say Arroyo, who is trailing in polls ahead of the elections, risks losing crucial political support if she fails to resolve the crisis.

"We shall follow the solemn duty to uphold the decision of the high court and we shall enforce any directive issued by it," Arroyo said in a statement issued before the ruling.

"We shall do this not because the presidency is taking sides with the court but because the constitution says so," she said.

House Speaker Jose de Venecia said on Sunday there would be a "real, real crisis" if the court ruled the impeachment unconstitutional.

Some of the lawmakers who have filed the impeachment complaint against Davide on allegations he misused public funds have said they are determined to go ahead with an impeachment no matter what the Supreme Court ruled.

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