Philippine President ready to face criminal investigation into vote-rigging

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo is willing to face a criminal investigation into vote-rigging and corruption allegations that were dismissed by Congress last year, her spokesman said Monday. Spokesman Ignacio Bunye was reacting to a statement Sunday by the country's influential Roman Catholic bishops, who said previous investigations into the allegations against Arroyo were hampered by "acts of evasion and obstruction of justice."

Arroyo survived three impeachment bids in September after her allies in the House of Representatives blocked them on a technicality, preventing a full-blown investigation into charges she rigged the 2004 election, abetted large-scale corruption and violated the constitution.

The political crisis unleashed by the allegations has fed a steady series of street protests and coup rumors.

"We are open to all just and fair means under the law to ferret out the truth surrounding all controversies affecting the presidency," Bunye said. "Those who believe they have strong evidence should file" a case before the country's anti-graft court "and give all parties concerned a chance to explain their positions," he told a radio interview.

The 120-strong Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines said in the strongly worded statement during its annual retreat in Manila that political processes have failed to make public officials accountable for wrongdoing.

"What we have seen instead are acts of evasion and obstruction of the truth," they said, citing the unresolved allegations that Arroyo conspired with an election commissioner to rig the 2004 election. The bishops recommended that "the search for truth be relentlessly pursued" through government investigative bodies, including the anti-graft court and Congress. They said an investigation should be led by "credible people, persons of integrity and probity."

Opposition lawmakers welcomed the bishops' statement but said they doubted whether Arroyo could be criminally investigated because of her immunity from prosecution while in office. Her sincerity in seeking the truth was also in doubt, they said, citing her order to top officials not to appear in congressional investigations without her consent.

Rep. Joel Villanueva proposed snap presidential elections, which aren't currently allowed by the Constitution, to resolve the monthslong crisis and questions on the legitimacy of Arroyo's presidency, reports the AP. I.L.

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