Wed, Sep 07, 2005 - Page 1 News List

President Arroyo's impeachment push founders after vote

AP , MANILA

Philippine legislators yesterday quashed the impeachment case against Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, leaving the streets as the court of last resort for the frustrated opposition.

Despite suggestions that mass protests loomed, initial public reaction was muted, as it has been throughout the political crisis that erupted in June over allegations that Arroyo rigged last year's election.

While 10,000 people turned out for an anti-Arroyo protest led by former president Corazon Aquino, that was a tiny fraction of the "people power" revolts that ousted two presidents in the last two decades, and the protest quickly lost steam, with the protesters dispersing at dusk.

The death last December of action film star Fernando Poe Jr., the runner-up to Arroyo in May last year, has left the opposition without a popular figure to rally around.

Ecstatic

Arroyo was ecstatic, thanking people for not supporting calls to oust her by force.

"The Filipino people mark a glorious day in history, when instead of forcing a president out of office through `people power,' they chose to keep a president through voting in the halls of constitutional democracy," she said in a statement.

She also spoke of reconciliation, which didn't seem likely anytime soon, with opposition legislators saying Arroyo's allies used their overwhelming dominance in the House of Representatives to keep the case from getting a fair hearing.

The decision could prolong the debilitating crisis that has gripped the nation and tainted the image of the US-trained economist, who has tried to revive the flagging economy during her four-and-a-half years in office.

"There was no closure on the issues raised against the president and the economy would suffer most," Senate majority leader Francis Pangilinan said as both the stock market and the peso fell.

Rule of law

"The public wanted the rule of law observed, they wanted a believable process. But this was denied them. So what can we expect from a disgruntled public?" he asked.

The House of Representatives -- overwhelmingly dominated by pro-Arroyo legislators -- voted 158-51, with six legislators abstaining and 21 absent, to uphold the House justice committee's decision to reject the complaints alleging Arroyo rigged the election, was involved in corruption and condoned human-rights violations.

The vote appeared to contradict the opposition's claims that it was only a few votes short of the 79 that it needed to send the case directly to the Senate for trial.

The nationally televised session dragged on for about 23 hours -- one of the longest ever -- and was marked by an intense debate and impassioned pleas from several opposition lawmakers.

Later, anti-Arroyo lawmakers stood, then shook hands and embraced each other, one wiping away tears.

"They did everything to hide the truth, to kill the impeachment charges," opposition Senator Sergio Osmena said.

"But they cannot hide the truth forever," he said.

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