Wed, Nov 08, 2006 - Page 5 News List

Arroyo accepts defense chief resignation

RIFT The president's trusted defense secretary gave no reason for his resignation, but many believed the decision was linked to Arroyo's desire to change the Constitution

AP , MANILA

Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo accepted the resignation of her defense secretary and former legal counsel yesterday amid reports he opposed her plans to change the Constitution.

Defense Secretary Avelino Cruz Jr. unexpectedly quit on Sunday without citing a reason, fueling speculation of a rift in Arroyo's Cabinet after the Supreme Court last month threw out a petition for a plebiscite to shift from a US-style presidential system to a parliamentary government.

Arroyo's spokesman, Ignacio Bunye, said the president accepted the resignation with regrets and that she would act as defense secretary until a replacement is found.

Bunye also said Arroyo was sad to see Cruz leaving at the height of crucial defense reforms he had instituted in the military.

Cruz, 53, served as Arroyo's chief legal counsel until he was appointed to head the defense department in August 2004 as her government was struggling to tame the restive 117,000-strong military.

Arroyo has survived three attempts to topple her government, including an alleged coup plot in February that forced her to declare a weeklong state of emergency. Dozens of opposition figures, communist guerrillas and military officers have been charged over the plot.

Cruz has been at the helm of US-backed efforts to reform the military -- one of Asia's weakest -- by upgrading training and modernizing equipment to better fight a 37-year Marxist insurgency and a decades-old Muslim separatist rebellion that has lured al-Qaeda militants to the impoverished region.

Arroyo has campaigned to overhaul the government system, saying a Cabinet headed by a prime minister would provide a measure of political stability lacking in the current presidential system, which has been plagued by numerous coup attempts and legislative deadlocks since a "people power" revolt ousted dictator Ferdinand Marcos in 1986.

But Cruz has reportedly opposed efforts to change the Constitution through a referendum, putting him on a collision course with other Cabinet members.

"He was saying it was a personal thing and that he couldn't take the situation any more," Arroyo's Chief of Staff Michael Defensor said.

"Of course, when you cannot follow that policy or you disagree with that policy, that will be a very uncomfortable situation," Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez said.

Despite the setback dealt by the Supreme Court, Arroyo will continue to campaign for constitutional change, Bunye said.

"She will continue to muster the Cabinet behind this vision, while keeping an open ear to all arguments, views and positions within her official family -- in the spirit of democratic debate and enlightenment," Bunye said.

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