Arroyo seeks truce with old foes ahead of 2004 vote

MANILA -- President Arroyo may seek an out-of-court settlement of cases filed by the government against her political rivals in a reconciliation bid ahead of May 2004 polls, a senior aide said Monday.

Cabinet Secretary Ricardo Saludo said a potential truce with the Arroyo foes could prove useful in avoiding another possible military mutiny “and other such things that diminish confidence” in the country’s economy.

Arroyo's reconciliation bid comes after a violent demonstration by about 10,000 supporters of deposed president Joseph Estrada in the heart of Manila's financial district last week.

Her aides described the protest as part of a plot to destabilize the government.

A military revolt against Arroyo's rule in July had dampened investor confidence in the Philippines.

Arroyo has asked influential Roman Catholic Bishop Fernando Capalla to discuss the reconciliation efforts with aides of Estrada as well as ex-dictator Ferdinand Marcos’s family and powerful businessman Eduardo Cojuangco, Saludo said.

He told local ABS-CBN television that reconciliation efforts were also being worked out with opposition Senators Panfilo Lacson and Gregorio Honasan, who like San Miguel Corp. (SMC) chairman Cojuangco are all potential Arroyo rivals in the May 2004 presidential vote.

Saludo said Estrada's camp, the heirs of the late Marcos, as well as Cojuangco would be encouraged to table proposals on how to resolve outstanding corruption and civil cases filed against them by the government.

He did not elaborate on the modalities of the possible out-of-court settlements, including how criminal cases could be resolved in such a fashion.

Estrada, who was deposed by Arroyo in a military-led popular uprising, is currently being detained in a hospital pending his massive corruption case involving about 80 million dollars.

Both the Marcos estate as well as Cojuangco face civil as well as criminal suits over wealth allegedly embezzled from state coffers during the rule of the ex-dictator.

Marcos died in US exile in 1989 three years after a popular revolt ended his 20-year rule.

Honasan is facing the prospect of criminal charges for allegedly masterminding a July 27 military revolt.

Lacson, a former national police chief, was let off the hook by a court last week for the alleged murder of a gang of bank robbers in the early 1990s but government lawyers have said they would appeal the ruling.

Saludo said that technically, the government could settle the civil cases against the Marcos family and Cojuangco out of court under agreements that would “satisfy the demands of justice and the demands of just restitution.”

For Estrada, he said one of the issues involved was "how the former president may be detained," Saludo said.

Estrada has sought permission to travel to the United States to have knee surgery, and Arroyo said last week that state prosecutors would not oppose the motion.

However, in the Estrada case as well as with the others, "the issue of law and the demand for justice will not be compromised," Saludo added. (AFP)


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