Philippines Catholic bishops stop short of calling for Arroyo's resignation


The Catholic bishops of the Philippines have stopped short of calling for the resignation of the country’s president, but instead urged her to allow officials to assist inquiries into a massive corruption scandal involving her husband.

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and some cabinet members have faced harsh criticism after allegations of corruption in a now-canceled program to build a national broadband network.

Rodolfo Lozada, a former government consultant, testified before a Senate committee on February 8.  He claimed a Chinese telecommunications company’s $329 million broadband service contract contained $130 million in kickbacks.  Lozada implicated the former head of the election commission, Benjamin Abalos Sr., and President Arroyo’s husband, Jose Miguel Arroyo, among others.

The Philippines Conference of Catholic Bishops convened an emergency meeting on Tuesday to determine their response to the crisis. 

An explicit condemnation of Arroyo from the bishops would have increased pressure on the president and some amongst the general populace were expecting just that.  However, the bishops addressed their criticisms more generally. 

"We strongly condemn the continuing culture of corruption from the top to the bottom of our social and political ladder," they wrote in a two-page statement.  "We ask the president to allow her subordinates to reveal any corrupt acts without being obstructed in their testimony no matter who is involved."

President Arroyo had issued an executive order preventing officials from cooperating in corruption investigations.  Critics have called the move a “gag” designed to prevent officials from incriminating members of the administration.

The CBCP statement asked the order be revoked, saying, “We strongly recommend the abolition of EO 464 so that those who might have knowledge of any corruption in branches of government may be free to testify before the appropriate investigating bodies.”

Rodolfo Lozada, the scandal’s whistleblower, on Tuesday said he respects the “collective wisdom” of the CBCP in its decision not to join the calls for the president’s resignation. 

Early on Tuesday former Philippines president Corazon Aquino called on Arroyo to resign. 

According to Reuters, Aquino said in a speech to the influential Makati Business Club, “Our guiding light should not be an obsession to evict the president."  

"But,” he continued,” in an environment where abuse of power closes all doors of legitimate redress, sadly we are too often pushed to the brink. That is why the most noble--and least disruptive--way out of the moral crisis would be for the president to resign.

"These critical times call for strong moral leadership, which clearly she is no longer in a position to provide," he said.

President Aquino had also called on Arroyo to resign during a 2004 scandal. 

President Arroyo has already survived three impeachment attempts and at least three coup plots.  Arroyo’s presidential term, her final, ends in 2010.

Archbishop Andonio Ledesma said on Tuesday that the bishops could issue another statement if the corruption crisis is not properly addressed.

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