- The Washington Times - Monday, February 18, 2008

MANILA (AP) — More than 50 former Philippine officials called for President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s Cabinet to resign, stoking political turbulence yesterday in the face of corruption charges that have battered her presidency.

The 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. At least 3,000 protesters attended the Mass at a Catholic university in suburban Manila.

About 10,000 protesters jammed the main avenue in Manila’s financial district Friday in an opposition-led rally to demand Mrs. Arroyo’s resignation.

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

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

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

Mr. Lozada thanked those who attended the Mass in support of 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.”

Mrs. Arroyo’s spokesman, Ignacio Bunye, declined to comment. The president’s key aides have previously denied Mr. Lozada’s charges.

Political tensions heightened after Mr. Lozada emerged two weeks ago, weeping and looking frightened as he made the claims on nationwide television.

In a Senate hearing, Mr. Lozada accused a former elections commission chief of demanding a huge kickback from a government contract with Chinese telecommunications giant ZTE Corp.

Mr. Lozada also charged that Mrs. Arroyo’s husband participated in backroom negotiations for the contract. The deal has since been aborted.

Both men denied the claims, and ZTE denied bribing Philippine officials.

Mrs. Arroyo survived three opposition impeachment bids and four attempted power grabs in her seven turbulent years in power.

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