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Philippines lawmakers quash impeachment
Updated: 2005-09-01 09:32

Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's congressional allies dealt a major blow Wednesday to efforts to oust her, using their dominating majority ! and the opposition's absence ! to toss out all three impeachment complaints against her, AP reported.

Opposition legislators cried foul and warned that the country's third "people power" revolt loomed. They watched the events unfold on TV, like the rest of the country, after walking out a day earlier from the House justice department committee hearing on the complaints.

But despite clashes between riot police and anti-Arroyo demonstrators outside Congress that injured 11 protesters, there was little sign that allegations of Arroyo rigging last year's election were generating the emotions ! or masses ! that fueled the peaceful ousters of dictator Ferdinand Marcos in 1986 and Arroyo's predecessor, President Joseph Estrada, in 2001.

"I hope the public will receive it favorably," said pro-Arroyo Rep. Rodolfo Antonino. "If the opposition claims that this was railroaded, it was not railroaded. They were the ones who walked out."

Supporters of Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo flash signs outside the session hall during impeachment hearings at Congress in suburban Quezon City, north of Manila, Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2005.
Supporters of Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo flash signs outside the session hall during impeachment hearings at Congress in suburban Quezon City, north of Manila, Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2005. [AP]
The opposition did indeed claim it was railroaded, saying the committee hearing was a well-orchestrated sham. Pro-Arroyo lawmakers claimed the opposition was using its own theatrics, calling the walkout a desperate, premeditated attempt to trigger street protests.

Opposition spokesman Rep. Francis Escudero said the impeachment charges are now on "life support," adding: "Our country is now on life support because the issues would not be foreclosed."

The opposition held slim hopes of still getting 79 signatures ! one-third of the House of Representatives ! that are needed to send the case directly to the Senate for trial. It claims it is six signatures short.

The committee vote culminated two rancorous days, starting with Tuesday's walkout. The opposition claimed the case was being killed unfairly, without getting a real hearing, on the strength of the administration dominance in the House.

Arroyo's allies first voted to exclude two of the three impeachment complaints, including one crafted by the opposition accusing her of three major offenses, including betrayal of the public trust.

That left the original complaint, which is widely considered to be the weakest ! and which the opposition claims was crafted two months ago by Arroyo allies as a safeguard against possible impeachment. Only one impeachment charge can be filed against an official in a year.

After rejecting suggestions that the complaint was legally faulty, the committee voted 49-1 that it could it not be pursued legally, in part because it would require using illegal wiretaps as evidence.

Pro-Arroyo lawmakers broke into applause, some shaking each other's hands.

The opposition fumed.

"This is the saddest day perhaps in Congress," said leftist Rep. Teodoro Casino. "This so brazen. The people have no other choice but to take to the streets because that is the only place we can resolve all these questions raised here."

TV video showed police pushing back rain-soaked protesters with fiberglass shields and hitting them with wooden truncheons, including women sprawled on the road. A protester, blood oozing from his head, was escorted away by companions. Some demonstrators fought back with stones.

Popular televangelist Eddie Villanueva, a failed presidential candidate, urged the opposition to exhaust constitutional means of pressing the charges against Arroyo, but warned that people would have no recourse but to take to the streets if the charges were dismissed on a technicality.

"If they kill this ! the fight of principled lawmakers ! today or tomorrow, in front of God and history, it's justified for the Filipino people. ... They could not be stopped from going to the court of the streets," Villanueva said.

The opposition wanted all three complaints combined because the constitution only allows one impeachment proceeding against the same official in a year.

The opposition has suffered from not having a popular, viable alternative to Arroyo. Fernando Poe Jr., a popular action film star who finished second to Arroyo, died in December from a stroke.

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