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Philippine Catholic bishops slam corruption but don't ask Arroyo to resign

Philippine Catholic bishops slam corruption but don't ask Arroyo to resign

Influential Philippine Roman Catholic bishops slammed endemic government corruption Tuesday but stopped short of urging President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to resign.
The statement by the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines, issued after a 10-hour emergency meeting, was a small victory for Arroyo's efforts to serve out the last two years of her term amid widespread calls for her to step down.
However, police said they had uncovered another coup plot against Arroyo, who has survived at least four takeover plots and three impeachment bids during her contentious seven years in office.
The bishops' group has played a key role in nonviolent revolts that ousted two leaders in the last two decades, and a strong statement against Arroyo could have bolstered protests against her.
"We strongly condemn the continuing culture of corruption from the top to the bottom of our social and political ladder," the bishops said in a pastoral statement.
"We must seek the truth and we must restore integrity. We are convinced that the search for truth in the midst of charges and allegations must be determined and relentless."
The statement urged Arroyo and her government to fight graft "wherever it is found" and for the president to rescind restrictions on officials testifying without her permission.
"We thank the CBCP for not succumbing to the propaganda of rabid oppositionists who are bent on overturning the gains of our strong economy," presidential spokesman Ignacio Bunye said in a statement. "The nation deserves a respite from frantic, irrational and dangerous calls for the president to resign."
The bishop's statement came as a consultant in a questionable telecommunications deal testified before the opposition-controlled Senate that millions of dollars in kickbacks went to Arroyo and her husband.
Former President Corazon Aquino, a former Arroyo supporter, repeated that she should quit, calling it the most noble and least disruptive way out of the moral crisis."
Deputy presidential spokesman Anthony Golez countered that the constitution offers a solution through the justice system and that people with "selfish motivations" should not be allowed to influence the situation.
Arroyo has not directly addressed the allegations against her and her husband, but has said she opposes corruption and that her family does no business with the government.
Arroyo told her economic Cabinet team Tuesday she wanted a quick outcome of separate investigations by the Justice Department and the government ombudsman into the deal so that "people can file a complaint if they see any irregularity."
She also appealed to the church, civil society and the media to join hands with the government in "unearthing the truth so that justice will prevail."
Thousands of left-wing and church-backed activists took to the streets Monday to demand Arroyo's resignation on the anniversary of the 1986 "people power" revolt that toppled late dictator Ferdinand Marcos.
Military and police generals, along with 4,000 police officers, staged their own "unity walk" to show loyalty to Arroyo amid coup rumors. Pro-Arroyo lawmakers also led a rally by more than 3,000 people.
Police said Tuesday they have received reliable intelligence reports of a possible public uprising being organized by junior military officers and other armed groups.
Police cited the reports in seeking a postponement of Wednesday's scheduled arraignment of an opposition senator and others charged with rebellion for a takeover last year of a five-star hotel that was aimed at triggering an uprising against Arroyo.
Protesters have been galvanized by anti-corruption hearings at the Senate that exposed an anomalous US$330 million (euro223 million) telecommunications contract with Chinese company ZTE Corp. which allegedly involved kickbacks to senior officials and the president's husband.
All those involved have denied the allegations, and Arroyo has scrapped the contract.
Communications engineer Dante Madriaga, a ZTE consultant, told the Senate that an alleged bagman for officials, Ruben Reyes, received US$41 million (euro28 million) from ZTE in three batches, with some of the money going to Arroyo and her husband and part of it used to help administration candidates in last year's elections.
"These 'allegations by installment' unless proven through the processes dictated by our laws would only remain as allegations," presidential spokesman Golez told reporters.