Macapagal beats impeachment bid

Philippine lawmakers on Thursday dismissed a second impeachment complaint against President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo by her political opponents, clearing the way for Congress to focus on other political issues such as constitutional reform.

Voting 173-32 with one abstention after 17 straight hours of debate, the House of Representatives, the lower house of Congress, affirmed a congressional panel’s ruling last week that the impeachment complaint, which accuses Mrs Macapagal of poll fraud and abuse of power, was “insufficient in substance.”

Mrs Macapagal, due to serve until 2010, survived a previous bid to oust her last year.

While the outcome was generally expected, many were surprised that the impeachment bid got only 32 votes, way below the 51 votes for a similar impeachment complaint filed last September. Under the rules of Congress, at least 79 or a third of its 236 members must vote in favour of impeachment to send the complaint for trial in the Senate, the upper house.

Ramon Casiple, executive director of Institute for Political and Electoral Reforms, the elections watchdog, said many of the lawmakers who voted for impeachment last year did not bother to show up this time. “They felt it was largely useless because they lacked the minimum number of votes to push for impeachment,” he said.

He added that some lawmakers were beginning to tone down their criticism of Mrs Macapagal for fear that their legislative districts would be starved of infrastructure projects, ruining their chances of retaining their seats in next year’s local and congressional elections. “Some of the dynamics of the voting were dictated by next year’s elections,” said Mr Casiple.

Jose de Venecia, speaker of the House of Representatives, said the defeat of the impeachment complaint would allow Congress to tackle other pending matters, including proposals to change the form of government from a US-style presidential system to a parliamentary system. The impeachment bid has grabbed most lawmakers’ time and attention since Congress resumed session on July 24.

“We reach out to the minority to put this episode behind us,” Mr de Venecia said. “There are urgent pieces of legislation to approve such as the supplemental budget, the proposed 2007 national budget, and a resolution to amend the Constitution. The nation must now move on.”

The Senate has yet to approve this year’s budget, prompting the government to cut planned spending to no more than last year’s levels. The government has submitted a bill seeking higher spending for crucial items such as the preparations for next year’s elections, increases in salaries of government workers, and the creation of a special fund for repatriating Filipinos working in conflict-torn regions such as the Middle East.

On Wednesday, the government also submitted a 2007 budget of 1,136bn pesos, 7.9 per cent higher than this year’s spending plan of 1,053bn pesos.

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