Sat, Jul 02, 2005 - Page 5 News List

Thousands call for Arroyo's resignation

`CRISIS' Unconvinced by her explanation about a phone call to an election official, protesters said the Philippine president must quit or face a `people power' uprising

AP , Manila and Hong Kong

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo faced mounting pressure yesterday to resign amid street rallies that drew at least 10,000 people in Manila and calls by an influential Roman Catholic bishop for her to do more to address allegations that she rigged last year's election.

Although yesterday's protest, called by left-wing opposition groups and supporters of disgraced ex-president Joseph Estrada, was the largest this week, it is still a fraction of the size of the "people power" uprisings that ousted late dictator Ferdinand Marcos in 1986 and Estrada in 2001.

"We are facing the worst economic and political crisis over the last decade, and Mrs. Arroyo is at the center of the crisis," said Renato Reyes, secretary general of the main left-wing group Bayan. "People power is a perfectly legitimate expression of democracy because it involves the direct action of the people."

Arroyo has undertaken a series of public-relations exercises aimed at defusing the most serious crisis to her leadership, including a public apology for phoning an election official during last year's vote count, purging her Cabinet of a minister charged with tax evasion and sending her corruption-tainted husband into exile.

Although she apologized for what she called "a lapse of judgment" when she talked to an election official about protecting a million-vote victory margin during last year's election, Arroyo denied meddling with the polls and has refused to heed calls to resign.

The influential archbishop of Manila, Gaudencio Rosales, also entered the heated debate over Arroyo's conduct, saying in a statement that "despite expressions of regret, many remain angry, confused, hurt."

Without mentioning Arroyo by name, he said: "Forgiveness does not eliminate the need for justice, nor should it block the search for truth. Genuine forgiveness demands more than an apology, and those who seek forgiveness should be ready to be called to accountability."

But Rosales also warned that "any proposed solution to our present situation that relies on or leads to violence is unacceptable," and said "the pursuit of truth regarding the grave charges against leaders and officials should be conducted within the provisions of our constitution."

Meanwhile, an opposition group led by former defense secretary Fortunato Abat said if Arroyo refuses to resign, she will be ousted and replaced by a 15-member "council of leaders" to serve as a transitional government while a new constitution is drafted.

It was unclear how much support the group enjoys, but Abat claimed he has followers among government officials and members of the powerful military, which has so far backed Arroyo.

The crisis has unnerved the financial markets and caused the peso to slip.

Stoking fears of more public discontent, a new value added tax took effect yesterday, sending fuel prices soaring and prompting the government to assure consumers it is putting in place "several mitigating measures."

Arroyo's scandal-tainted husband was in Hong Kong yesterday -- the apparent start of his self-imposed exile -- but a Philippine diplomat said officials did not know whether he would stay in the territory.

Jose Miguel "Mike" Arroyo arrived in Hong Kong on Thursday evening -- one day after the embattled Philippine leader said her husband would leave the country to allow her to fight vote-rigging accusations at home.

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