Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo apologized yesterday for talking with an election official about her hopes for a million-vote margin in last year's ballot, but said she did nothing wrong and would not step down.
In a nationally televised speech, Arroyo appealed for unity as she addressed the three-week-old political crisis over the wiretapped phone chat that has sparked calls for her to resign with five years left in her term.
"I recognize that making any such call was a lapse in judgment," a somber Arroyo said as she looked into the camera. "I am sorry. I also regret taking so long to speak before you on this matter.
"I take full responsibility for my actions. To you and to all those good citizens who may have had their faith shaken by this event, I want to assure you that I have redoubled my efforts to serve the nation and earn your trust," she said.
"I want to close this chapter and move on with the business of governing," she said.
Meanwhile, deposed president Joseph Estrada said yesterday that Arroyo must be made to answer in court after admitting she called a poll commissioner during last year's vote.
Congress should also be asked to play in full the wiretapped conversations between Arroyo and commissioner Virgilio Garcillano in which they allegedly conspired to rig the votes, Estrada said.
"Her apology is noted, but she must face the consequences," Estrada said.
He is under house arrest while his trial for corruption continues.
It was far from clear whether Arroyo's statement would appease the opposition and leftist groups that have allied against her and held street protests. Several House of Representatives committees began hearings last week on the wiretap tapes.
Arroyo spokesman Ignacio Bunye said it was time to move on.
"There is nothing illegal here," Bunye said in a statement. "The only value in pursuing this at this point is political embarrassment. No doubt her detractors will continue to stoke the controversy for their own personal gain. But for most reasonable people, this issue is not behind us."
The scandal erupted early this month as Arroyo was grappling with daunting problems, including rising oil prices, a huge budget deficit and security issues that have forced her to take unpopular steps like new taxes. Her popularity rating has plunged to a record low.
Arroyo has also been buffeted by accusations that her son and brother-in-law, both members of Congress, pocketed huge illegal gambling payoffs. The two have strongly denied the allegations.
A lawyer critical of the government, Oliver Lozano, filed an impeachment complaint against Arroyo at the House on Monday, calling her a "bogus president" while accusing her of violating the Constitution by cheating in the elections and betraying the public's trust. The prospects for the complaint were difficult to ascertain. At least one member of the 236-member Congress has to endorse the complaint if it is to be considered for discussion. Lawmakers have been debating whether the recordings, reportedly illegal wiretaps by military intelligence agents, could be used in legal proceedings.
A small group of left-wing activists protested yesterday near the Malacanang presidential palace, calling on Arroyo to step down.