Philippine President impeachment can lead to deep crisis

Philippine opposition lawmakers warned Congress on Monday that dropping impeachment charges against President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo could spark unrest and worsen a crisis over claims that she rigged elections.

The 236-seat House of Representatives, overwhelmingly dominated by pro-Arroyo legislators, started a final debate before voting on whether to uphold a justice committee's decision to throw out all three impeachment complaints, the AP informs.

Arroyo's allies expressed confidence that the charges would be dismissed. "They're willing to stay late into the dawn to end this," said pro-Arroyo legislator Prospero Nograles.

About 140 pro-Arroyo lawmakers met on Monday before the debates began and reaffirmed support to Arroyo, he said. "To the last man ... they have decided that they will not join the move to impeach the president at this time because it's not going to do the country any good," he said.

Arroyo, a U.S.-trained economist, is accused of rigging last year's election, and of bribery, corruption and other crimes. She has denied wrongdoing and refused to resign.

Arroyo's opponents say the impeachment process was the last legal avenue to press her to answer to the charges and close the crisis.

A new anti-Arroyo coalition, led by pro-democracy icon and former President Corazon Aquino, announced a protest march Tuesday to bolster public support for impeachment.

Aquino, who co-led the previous popular uprisings, has asked Arroyo to resign but has refrained from joining street protests until now.

Metropolitan Manila police chief Vidal Querol said the capital's 16,000-strong police force was placed on full alert indefinitely starting late Sunday to safeguard law and order during this week's protests.

Anti-Arroyo protesters clashed with riot police last week, injuring 26 people.

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