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Roxas quits Cabinet

In a move that deals a fresh and major blow to the already beleaguered Estrada presidency, Trade and Industry Secretary Mar Roxas II resigned yesterday from the Cabinet.


Malacañang sources said Presidential Adviser for Political Affairs Lito Banayo is also expected to resign today.


Five economic advisers of the President will also resign during a meeting today with Finance Secretary Jose Pardo.


Malacañang officials yesterday refused to confirm or deny that former Prime Minister and Finance Mi-nister Cesar Virata, former Central Bank Governor Gabriel Singson, and business leaders Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala, Washington SyCip and Vicente Paterno have quit the Council of Senior Economic Advisers.


"I have heard it said... that they have opted not to be active in that capacity," Pardo said.


Virata, who was at the library of the Asian Development Bank in Pasig City yesterday, said, "We did not resign because it is not an official post. We are stepping aside because we can no longer function."


Roxas, who admitted recently that the government is fast "taking in water" because of allegations that President Estrada took millions in illegal gambling bribes, is the second Cabinet member to quit in the wake of the jueteng scandal.


Vice President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was the first to quit her post as secretary of social welfare and development last Oct. 12. Both Arroyo and Roxas are descendants of former presidents.


There were unconfirmed reports yesterday that Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno and Pardo himself will quit in a few days.


Political observers say the resignation of Roxas, who is widely respected in business and political circles and boasts of an illustrious lineage, deeply erodes the credibility of the present administration.


Roxas gave no reason for his resignation and fell short of calling on the President to step down. But he did appeal for sobriety "for the good of the country" as the jueteng scandal continues to hammer the economy and rock the nation.


"It is important that this period of uncertainty be resolved at the soonest time. Accordingly, it is my hope that the constitutionally prescribed process begin and is conducted with speed and transparency," he said in a statement, referring to the impeachment complaint against the President pending in the House of Representatives.


"This process is one of the rights and freedoms we fought for when we won back democracy, second only to the election as a mechanism to hear the voice of the people. It will be a profound loss and disservice to us as a people if it is discredited or thwarted," he continued.


Roxas served for only eight months.


"For the record, at no time for the entire eight months has the President or anyone associated with him requested or suggested anything improper," he said.


Roxas contacted his district leaders in recent days to inform them of his impending resignation.


A week ago, Roxas rejected calls for the Cabinet to abandon the President but became the first Malacañang official to admit that the political storm was threatening to sink the administration, which he said was "taking in water."

‘Another blow to the economy’

Pardo admitted that Virata, Ayala, SyCip and Paterno had called a meeting with him set for today. They reportedly plan to submit their letter of resignation, seen as a sign of the further erosion of the business community’s confidence in Mr. Estrada.


"We are stepping down from the council to allow a reorganization to take place if the government so wishes," they said in a letter, according to an official close to them. They gave no reason for their resignation.


Singson reportedly did not sign the letter but is expected to tender his own today. They reportedly want Pardo to announce their departure.


Pardo said he had not received any letter of resignation but added he did not know the subject of the meeting.


He conceded that their resignations would further erode the Estrada administration’s credibility and eventually hurt the already ailing economy, one of the weakest in Southeast Asia.


"Of course, there would be political significance to this," he said.


He said the economic damage was still limited to the financial markets but warned that prices of key commodities could go up.


If the advisers do leave, Pardo said they will continue to seek their advice but not in a formal and official manner as before.


The advisory council was formed in January as a result of earlier business criticisms of the administration’s stumbling economic policy implementation.

Estrada appeals to sense of patriotism

Mr. Estrada urged the advisers yesterday to stay and help the government solve the economic crisis brought about by the jueteng scandal.


"I am appealing to their sense of patriotism," Mr. Estrada said in a statement. "The situation calls for all Filipinos to transcend their personal or political interests and work together with government in checking further damage to the economy."


But he maintained that the "country’s economic woes were caused mainly by external factors that are beyond the government’s control."


Arroyo quit her Cabinet post after the jueteng scandal erupted last month to "join the true Cabinet of the people."


Cabinet members — including Pardo — have been under intense pressure from former colleagues, relatives, friends and even neighbors to abandon Mr. Estrada.


Last Monday, 11 influential business organizations demanded Mr. Estrada’s resignation, saying the jueteng scandal had created a leadership crisis that was damaging the country’s economy.


Mr. Estrada had rejected the growing clamor for his resignation, fueled by fears that the political crisis, if prolonged, would drag down the economy.


In a speech to the nation last Monday, Mr. Estrada promised to reform his government, eliminate cronyism and campaign against smuggling, but said he would wait to respond to the jueteng scandal until "the proper time."


However, former President Corazon Aquino, who is leading calls for Mr. Estrada’s resignation, said the reforms were "too little and too late." – Marichu Villanueva, Aurea Calica, wire services

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