Wed, Jul 20, 2005 - Page 5 News List

Arroyo announces truth commission

WITNESSES WANTED The Philippine president said a truth commission would investigate claims of vote-rigging that have brought her presidency to the brink

AP , MANILA

A protester wears shades with an ``Oust Gloria Now!'' slogan during a rally mostly consisting of women in the financial district of Makati, east of Manila, yesterday. The protest demanded the removal of Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

PHOTO: AP

Opposition lawmakers vowed yesterday to file impeachment charges against Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, who tried to calm the crisis by announcing a truth commission to investigate vote-rigging allegations against her.

The lawmakers said that they planned to file up to 10 criminal charges, including election fraud and corruption.

They were seeking witnesses among 13 former Cabinet members and top aides who recently quit Arroyo's government -- some saying they're willing to testify against their former boss.

The truth commission adds another dimension to the seven-week-old political standoff. It was unclear what effect, if any, it would have on impeachment prospects.

The lawmakers and lawyers scrambled to prepare charges, evidence and witness rosters in time to file an impeachment complaint by Thursday, said Representative Ronaldo Zamora, head of the opposition's legal team.

Congress will convene next week. An impeachment trial -- the second in less than five years in the deeply divided country -- would be a politically explosive exercise against a backdrop of almost-daily anti-Arroyo protests and rumors about brewing coups.

"Our charges against her would revolve around the crimes of cheating, lying and stealing," Representative Francis Escudero said.

The main charge centers on allegations that Arroyo rigged last year's closely contested election, but Zamora said there could be up to 10 criminal offenses she may have committed during more than four years in power.

He said the opposition will give Arroyo a "day in court," but urged her to step down to avoid a drawn-out process.

"I expect that President Arroyo would see that she has no escape from this process and we still urge her to resign," he told DZBB radio.

Also yesterday, about 1,000 members of a left-wing women's group demanded Arroyo's ouster in a noisy rally in Manila's financial district. They waved placards, a large caricature of Arroyo and a mock presidential seal with a lizard -- a local symbol for politicians who cling to power.

In an open letter to the Philippines' influential Roman Catholic bishops, Arroyo repeated her refusal to quit, said she would set up a truth commission and indicated that the solid turnout for a rally in her support on Saturday had helped provide "a more balanced view" of public opinion.

Arroyo said that quitting -- when she has not been formally charged with any wrongdoing -- would undercut the country's fragile democracy.

Arroyo had been vice president before she was swept to power in 2001, following the ouster of Joseph Estrada amid huge protests over allegations of massive corruption and misrule.

The so-called "people power" revolt erupted when pro-Estrada senators blocked the opening of crucial evidence against him during an impeachment trial.

Arroyo won her six-year term in an election last year, but it came under a cloud with the emergence of phone recordings in which Arroyo and an election official purportedly discussed ways to ensure a million-vote lead and restrain a possible witness to fraud.

Arroyo apologized for phoning the official before she was declared winner, but denied manipulating the outcome.

The crisis has worsened with the resignations of 13 Cabinet members and advisers, including Arroyo's economic team.

Opposition lawmakers were expected to exploit their insider knowledge. Imelda Nicolas, who quit as head of the government's anti-poverty commission, said she and other ex-Cabinet members were willing to testify "if we know something relevant to the charges."

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