Arroyo avoids all impeachment charges

Philippine legislators took away all impeachment charges against President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo despite warnings that such a decision could spark a new "people power" revolt.

The House of Representatives - overwhelmingly dominated by pro-Arroyo legislators - voted to uphold the House justice committee's decision to reject the complaints alleging Arroyo rigged last year's election, was involved in corruption and condoned human rights violations.

The nationally televised session dragged on for about 23 hours - one of the longest ever - and was marked by intense debate and impassioned pleas from opposition lawmakers for justice and fairness.

Although a victory for Arroyo, the decision could prolong the debilitating crisis that has gripped her poor Southeast Asian nation since June and tainted the image of the U.S.-trained economist who has tried to revive the flagging economy during 4 1/2 years in office.

Anti-Arroyo lawmakers stood, then shook hands and embraced each other.

"I'm distressed that we will end up this way by killing the one impeachment complaint that contains a truly substantial case and its evidence, killing a complaint that the president should answer and the public wants her to answer," said opposition Rep. Ronaldo Zamora, the lead impeachment lawyer.

Meanwhile the vote-rigging accusations against Arroyo emerged in June, based on illegal wiretaps in which she purportedly discussed with an elections commissioner how to ensure a million-vote victory in the closely fought May 2004 election.

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

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