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Filipino judge faces impeachment

Constitutional crisis looms

From Maria Ressa
CNN Jakarta Bureau Chief

Davide called the charges
Davide called the charges "totally without basis."

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Manila braces for massive protests following the sacking of the popular Supreme Court Chief Justice.
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Gloria Macapagal Arroyo

MANILA, Philippines (CNN) -- Troops are on red alert in Manila in the face of expected protests after impeachment charges were filed against a top judge.

Opposition lawmakers charge Hilario Davide, the Chief Justice of the Philippine Supreme Court with allegedly misusing public funds.

Davide claims the charges lobbied against him are without basis and politically motivated by forces loyal to former President Joseph Estrada and powerful businessmen whose cases are awaiting a decision at the Supreme Court.

"The probable fear is they cannot twist my arm in these cases," Davide told CNN.

"What is attacked is the independence of the judiciary. Without an independent judiciary, you cannot speak of a strong democracy."

The Philippines' top judge has played a crucial role during times of constitutional crisis. He helped draft the constitution in 1986, headed a fact-finding panel after a series of coup attempts in 1989, and conducted the impeachment trial of Estrada in 2001.

"I was the one who administered the oath on then vice-president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, for her to succeed (Estrada) because of the power vacuum. So there had been a continuing effort to retaliate against me by using now political parties, identified with the former president," Davide says.

The Supreme Court claims the move is unconstitutional and started public hearings on Tuesday.

Although not all lawmakers support the impeachment bid, Congress says the Supreme Court has no jurisdiction over the legislative branch.

Bracing for protests

Meanwhile, Filipinos are preparing to march to the streets. The military is on alert and watching four critical areas in the capital where protests may break out.

Demonstrators in favor of the impeachment scuffled with police who blocked their march to the Senate in Manila on Wednesday, according to Reuters. Former president Corazon Aquino lead an anti-impeachment protest in the southern city of Cebu, the home province of the embattled judge.

The crisis threatens to hurt the already fragile economy. The Philippine peso has fallen to record lows against the U.S. dollar.

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo is trying to broker an agreement between the different branches of government.

"I have tried a common solution but it is meeting obstacles," Arroyo said after revealing details of proposals she had made for ending the stand-off.

In her proposal, Arroyo urged the House of Representatives to withdraw the impeachment complaint against Davide and asked the chief justice's office to cooperate with a state auditing agency, Reuters reported.

The proposal also calls for the complaint against Davide to be returned to the House committee on justice, instead of moving on to a Senate trial that would raise the chances of a constitutional clash between the legislature and judiciary.

House Speaker Jose de Venecia had raised hopes a resolution could be reached as soon as Thursday but members of the Nationalist People's Coalition (NPC) party indicated they were not ready to accept the president's compromise attempt.

The NPC said the impeachment would go to the Senate even if the Supreme Court declares the process unconstitutional.

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