MANILA, Philippines - Influential Roman Catholic bishops in the Philippines slammed massive government corruption and urged the public to help overhaul President Gloria Arroyo's graft-ridden administration.
The criticism aired on Tuesday by the leaders of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines was one of their strongest yet against Arroyo's administration, but it stopped short of urging her to step down, according to a report by the Associated Press.
The bishops' group has played a key role in nonviolent "people power" revolts that previously ousted two leaders, including late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, in the last two decades. But efforts by opposition groups to stir such massive protests to oust Arroyo so far have failed to draw considerable crowds.
Archbishop Angel Lagdameo, president of the 100-strong bishops' group, said it was up to the public to decide whether to seek a new leader through nonviolent and constitutional means.
Despite several warnings from the Catholic Church about endemic government corruption, the problem has continued in alarming proportions under Arroyo's leadership, Lagdameo said, citing a series of corruption allegations against her administration.
"In the past few years up to today, we have watched how corruption has become endemic, massive, systemic and rampant in our politics," Lagdameo said in a statement read at a news conference.
"In response to the global economic crisis and the pitiful state of our country, the time to rebuild our country economically, socially, politically is now," said Lagdameo, who appeared with four other bishops.
Arroyo, who has steadfastly denied any wrongdoing and vowed to eliminate corruption, has survived three impeachment bids over allegations of corruption. She also has survived at least four coup plots in her tumultuous years in office.
Presidential spokesman Jesus Dureza said Arroyo will focus on ways to brace the country from the possible impact of the global financial turbulence rather than answer the bishops' criticisms.
"We will continue to focus on our work for the poor and address a bigger issue ... this global crisis," Dureza said.