Filipino police prepare for protests as Congress readies to debate Arroyo impeachment

Philippine police went on alert ahead of expected anti-government protests and a stormy debate by lawmakers who are to decide this week on the fate of impeachment charges against President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

Arroyo's allies on the House of Representatives' justice committee voted last Wednesday to throw out all three impeachment complaints against her in a session that was boycotted by opposition lawmakers who have accused their pro-Arroyo counterparts of railroading the decision.

The 236-seat House, which is dominated by Arroyo's allies, was expected to vote this week on whether to accept or reject the committee's decision to throw out the impeachment charges. Arroyo is accused of rigging last year's election _ and of bribery, corruption and other crimes _ in her worst political crisis. She has denied any wrongdoing and has refused to resign.

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 anti-government protests timed with the impeachment debate.

More than 300 policemen will be deployed outside Congress to keep order and a standby military force could be tapped if protests get out of hand, he said. A clash between leftist activists and riot police injured 26 people at the gates of Congress last week.

Rallies will not be allowed at a pro-democracy shrine along the capital's EDSA highway, Querol said. The shrine was the site of "people power" revolts that ousted dictator Ferdinand Marcos in 1986 and Arroyo's predecessor, Joseph Estrada, in 2001.

Police were also concerned about persistent reports of possible terror attacks in the capital, he said. One pro-administration lawmaker, who later backed impeachment charges against Arroyo, claimed the president's legislative supporters were rushing to clear her of the charges before she leaves next week for the U.N. General Assembly in New York.

Arroyo's opponents and allies in Congress differed on a potentially explosive issue. Opposition lawmakers contend that despite the dismissal of all the impeachment complaints by the House justice committee, they can still impeach Arroyo and send their complaint to the Senate for trial if they can get the signatures of a third, or 79, of the legislators.

Opposition lawmakers claim they are a few signatures short of 79. However, a key Arroyo backer, Rep. Marcelino Libanan, said the impeachment charges against Arroyo could no longer be resurrected because they have already been dismissed by the justice committee.

Former President Corazon Aquino, regarded as a moral icon in the country and an ex-ally of Arroyo, has asked her to resign and has been prodding lawmakers to sign the impeachment charges against her.

The allegations against Arroyo have set off protests and coup rumors although the rallies have only been a fraction of the huge street demonstrations that drove Marcos and Estrada out of power, AP reports.

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