Former officials urge Philippine administration to resign

 
More than 50 former Philippine officials called on the administration of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to resign Sunday, stoking further political turbulence amid corruption allegations that have battered her presidency.

The former officials from previous administrations, including former Arroyo Cabinet members, made the public appeal after attending a Mass led by Roman Catholic groups and ex-President Corazon Aquino to show support for a star witness in a new corruption scandal.

More than 3,000 protesters attended the Mass in a suburban Manila Catholic university. About 10,000 protesters jammed the main avenue in Manila's financial district Friday in an opposition-led rally to demand Arroyo's resignation.

In a statement read by former Philippine ambassador to Washington Albert del Rosario, the group called on current officials "who can no longer endure this wrongful governance" to quit Arroyo's administration. They also urged officials with knowledge of any wrongdoing by the government to emulate Rodolfo 'Jun' Lozada Jr.

Lozada, a government consultant, publicly exposed alleged large-scale bribery in a US$330 million government broadband contract being investigated by the opposition-dominated Senate.

The former officials said they were alarmed by the abuse of presidential powers, including the use of security forces "to strangle the truth."

Lozada thanked those who attended the Mass to support him. "When I did this, I would just like to save my soul," he said. "I didn't know I'll save my country's soul."

Arroyo's spokesman, Ignacio Bunye, declined to comment. Arroyo's key aides have previously denied Lozada's allegations.

Political tensions heightened after Lozada emerged two weeks ago, weeping and looking scared on nationwide TV as he made the allegations.

In a Senate hearing, Lozada accused a former elections commission chief of demanding a huge kickback from the government deal with China's telecommunications giant ZTE Corp., which has since been aborted. He also alleged that Arroyo's husband took part in backroom negotiations in the deal.

Both men have denied the allegations, and ZTE denied bribing Philippine officials.

Opposition senators wanted to know if Arroyo committed any wrongdoing in the deal. Her former economic adviser has refused to testify before the Senate about closed-door talks with the president about the controversial project.

Lozada has also alleged that government security men held him briefly as he arrived from a foreign trip, apparently to prevent him from testifying, prompting him to decide to seek Senate protection and testify. Police have denied the allegation.

Arroyo has survived three opposition impeachment bids and four attempted power grabs in her seven turbulent years in power.  (AP)
 
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