Arroyo ally calls for new bribery probe

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MANILA, Oct 18 (Reuters) The Philippines' lower house of Congress is set to open its own inquiry into allegations cash was given to allies of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, raising the heat on her scandal-prone government.

Jose de Venecia, the speaker of the House of Representatives and formerly one of Arroyo's strongest supporters, called for the probe today and said the president needed to reorganise her cabinet to win back people's trust.

''There must be a fairly large-scale and credible overhaul,'' said de Venecia, whose relationship with the president has been strained since his son alleged a telecoms deal with a Chinese company was overpriced to fund kickbacks to officials.

De Venecia, who has played a decisive role in protecting Arroyo from two impeachment bids, admitted he was considering cutting his ties with the president after her allies launched a separate bribery inquiry against him.

The controversy is the latest in a series of scandals facing Arroyo and analysts say a split with de Venecia, who controls a 95-strong block in the lower house, could be risky for the president, who is facing a fresh impeachment complaint.

At least 80 signatures are needed for an impeachment complaint to progress to the opposition-dominated Senate.

Arroyo currently dominates the lower house.

''She is in danger because the solid majority that is behind her is showing some cracks,'' said Earl Parreno of the Institute for Political and Electoral Reforms.

De Venecia said the ethics panel of the lower house would summon lawmakers who claimed to have received 11,300 dollars each after a meeting with the president at her office last week.

''It will be nice if we will have an honest-to-goodness investigation,'' he said.

Arroyo had ordered a ''quiet'' inquiry into the bribery allegations but has not commented on the issue.

The opposition has said the payments amounted to bribery since, at the meetings, Arroyo discussed the impeachment complaint against her.

Her political opponents in the two houses of Congress have said she should resign, but her spokesman, Ignacio Bunye, said the president intended to finish her term in June 2010.

Adding to the pressure, a group of powerful Roman Catholic bishops scheduled a news conference on Friday to demand Arroyo end corruption in her government.

DEFENSIVE De Venecia told reporters he would send Arroyo a letter next week seeking a ''moral revolution'' to win back the trust of the dominant Catholic Church and the people.

''I am not without sin,'' he said. ''I am 70 and I want to leave a good legacy for my country, for my children and for my grandchildren. We must do something to lead out our country from corruption, despair and poverty.'' Since August, Arroyo's government has been on the defensive, avoiding Senate inquiries into political killings, election fraud and corruption in government contracts.

Last month, her husband was named in a kickback scandal that forced his friend -- the head of the elections agency -- to quit his job.

Last week, an official in Arroyo's political party, Kampi, was fired after he allegedly offered bribes to opposition lawmakers to support a weak impeachment complaint against her, thereby shielding her for at least a year from similar motions.

REUTERS SKB DS1650

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