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Philippine court strikes down second Arroyo order

Written by: Staff

BAGUIO CITY, Philippines, Apr 25 (Reuters) Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo suffered a second legal setback in a week today when the Supreme Court struck down her order to break up street protests as she faced a political crisis.

Arroyo, who weathered an impeachment attempt last year and an alleged coup plot this year, imposed the ''calibrated pre-emptive response'' in September to stop almost daily rallies calling for her to step down over allegations of vote-rigging and graft.

Voting 13-0, with two of the 15 justices on leave, the court nullified the policy that had seen police using water cannon and clubs against protesters. But it upheld a law called BP 880 that was Arroyo's basis for imposing the order.

''The so-called calibrated pre-emptive response policy has no place in our legal firmament and must be struck down as a darkness that shrouds freedom,'' said Adolf Azcuna, an associate justice who wrote the 36-page ruling.

''It merely confuses our people and is used by some police agents to justify abuses.'' Last week, the Supreme Court said another Arroyo order, which had prevented government officials from attending congressional hearings, was unconstitutional. Afterwards, her opponents in Congress vowed to reprise their inquiries against the president.

The Supreme Court is expected to rule next week on a third Arroyo order that has sparked controversy -- the week-long state of emergency she invoked in February after the military said it foiled a plot by rogue troops, communists and some politicians.

Despite the political crisis, investors have welcomed efforts by Arroyo's government to bolster revenue collection, trim the budget deficit and cut debt of about billion.

But some analysts fear the persistent allegations against the president and the heated political climate could undermine the fiscal reforms, whose road to success is already steep due to corruption, inefficiency and vested interests.

Arroyo's orders during the crisis have been criticised by her foes and some commentators as an attempt to mimic the iron-fisted policies of late dictator Ferdinand Marcos to crush dissent.

The Supreme Court on Tuesday also asked local governments to designate ''freedom parks'' where people could freely express their sentiments during protest rallies and marches.

''It is very clear that BP 880 is not an absolute ban on public assemblies,'' said the ruling, which was released in Baguio during the court's traditional summer session in the northern mountain city.


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