COMBATING CORRUPTION IN THE PHILIPPINES

Under the Philippine system, corruption allegations against public figures are referred to the Office of the Ombudsman. If the ombudsman believes there is enough evidence to prosecute, charges are filed before a special court, which tries the officials. Cleo Calimbahin, the executive director in the Philippines of Transparency International, a Berlin-based advocacy group, told the Wall Street Journal, “Our anticorruption court, as it is, is unable to handle cases in a timely manner," noting that cases usually drag on for years,” allowing alleged culprits to hide stolen money and cut deals, avoiding conviction. [Source: Trefor Moss, Wall Street Journal, May 29, 2014]

According to business-anti-corruption.com: Anti-corruption has been a high political priority under President Aquino's administration, including a number of reforms and increased prosecution of corrupt officials. However, the effects of President Aquino's anti-corruption works are still minor and there exists implementation gaps. The New York Times reports in August 2013 that the Aquino government is now facing great pressure from citizens for failing on its promise of fighting rampant corruption after several high-profile corruption cases have been exposed. [Source: business-anti-corruption.com]

“It is also important for companies to keep in mind that gifts and favours are forbidden in the code of conduct and are defined as bribes by the Revised Penal Code (Art. 210). The Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act forbids officials from receiving gifts (sect. 3). However, Global Integrity 2010 states that the regulations governing gifts and hospitality offered to civil servants are poorly enforced in practice. Moreover, facilitation payments are another risk area companies should be highly aware of. Con-way, a freight transportation company based on California, paid a USD 300,000 penalty for making hundreds of relatively small payments to Customs Official in the Philippines and the Philippine Economic Zone Area in order to induce the Filipino officials to violate customs regulations, settle customs disputes, and reduce or not enforce otherwise legitimate fines for administrative violations. Click here to read more information related to this case. [Ibid]

See Economy Under Arroyo

Benigno Acquino III’s Corruption Fighting Efforts

Manuel Mogato of Reuters wrote: “Aquino won office on a platform of curbing the corruption that has drained government coffers and entrenched poverty in the Philippines, a country of 97 million people. Since then the Philippines has recorded strong growth, improved its public finances and been awarded investment grade ratings, partly dispelling its "sick man of Asia" reputation. Investors cite the anti-corruption drive as an important reason for the growing belief the rebound is sustainable. Indeed, the Philippines' position on Transparency International's corruption perceptions index has improved, rising to 105th out of 176 countries and territories last year from 129th in 2011, overtaking Indonesia and Vietnam. A higher ranking means a cleaner public sector. [Source: Manuel Mogato, Reuters, October 31, 2013 ^=^]

“Aquino said in July that the country loses 200 billion pesos a year to corruption, or about 1.8 percent of economic output. "The mistrust will affect confidence, and confidence affects investors' perception," said Astro del Castillo, managing director of Manila-based investment house First Grade Finance Inc. The president has taken a tough line on tax evaders and launched criminal cases against former officials, including his predecessor Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, her family and allies. Aquino led efforts to remove the head of the anti-graft agency on allegations of corruption while the anti-corruption agency ombudsman filed graft charges against police generals over the inflated price paid for helicopters and the fake repair of armored vehicles. ^=^

The Philippines have long been plagued by endemic corruption, including graft, bribery, and extortion. A lacking and complex regulatory system and low institutional oversight to enforce existing regulations contribute to an environment of widespread corruption. Insufficient campaign finance laws and lobbying regulations, bureaucratic loopholes, and a judiciary perceived as inefficient and incompetent combine to give the Philippines a reputation as a hot spot for political corruption. [Source: Partnership for Transparency Fund]

It is into this environment that President Benigno Aquino III was inaugurated as the Philippines’ 15th President on June 30, 2010. Aquino vowed to crack down on all types of corruption, with a campaign slogan of “If there’s no corruption, there’s no poverty.” To this end, Aquino has already passed a new law protecting whistleblowers and plans to increase transparency and accountability through the Cabinet Cluster on Good Governance and Anti-Corruption and a new e-governance initiative. In response to this progress, Moody’s has upgraded the Philippines’ credit-rating outlook to “positive,” bringing it closer to an investment-grade ranking.

The year 2012 in particular has been a dramatic one in the fight against corruption. The first notable event was the arrest of Former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Arroyo, President Aquino’s predecessor, was widely seen as a symbol of political corruption in the Philippines. In February 2011, the Commission on Elections indicted her for rigging an election for a candidate back in 2007. The next month, she was charged along with her husband with making a corrupt contract with a Chinese telecommunications company. Arroyo plead not guilty to both. But when she attempted to leave the country for medical treatment last November, she was promptly arrested and detained at the hospital. Though she still faces life imprisonment if convicted, on July 25th she was released on bailafter the courts found the evidence to keep her detained insufficient. This is seen as a setback for President Aquino, who made bringing her to justice a national priority upon taking office.

But the drama didn’t end there. Less than a month after Arroyo’s arrest, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Renato C. Corona was impeached and put on trial for allegedly violating the Constitution (by not disclosing all of his financial assets) and for a “betrayal of public trust.” Corona was appointed by President Arroyo and was seen as a major figure in her corrupt regime. In fact, her arrest was in direct violation of Justice Corona’s decision to let her leave the country. President Aquino branded Corona as “[embodying] what ails the judiciary.” Corona, for his part, has claimed his trial is political revenge for an earlier ruling requiring a sugar plantation owned by the Aquino family to be redistributed to local farmers. He has also spoken out against Arroyo’s arrest as unconstitutional and politically motivated. When testifying, Corona agreed to release his financial information, revealing millions of dollars worth of previously undisclosed money. In a Senate vote he was convicted 20 to 3. His conviction is seen as a major victory for the Aquino administration and has prompted many other politicians to disclose their assets voluntarily.

The third anti-corruption drama of the year was the threat issued by the Financial Action Task Force of the OECD to downgrade the Philippines to its “blacklist” if proper financial reforms were not implemented by June 21st. Now under pressure from both President Aquino and the FATF, the legislature drafted and passed two laws, which were signed by the President on June 18th, three days before the deadline.

The bills were called the Act to Further Strengthen Money Laundering Laws and the Terrorism Financing Prevention and Suppression Act. The first law expands the ability of the Bureau of Internal Revenue and the Anti-Money Laundering Council to investigate financial records without prior consent, the second focuses more on freezing the assets of suspected terrorists. These laws hope to put an end to the Philippines’ reputation as a safe haven for financing illicit activities, especially terrorism. Terrorism in the Philippines is a major challenge, with multiple insurgencies operating in its territory (one of which is funded by jihadists in the Middle East). Although the third reform, which would have expanded the number of non-bank entities subject to inspection, was not passed, the FATF was satisfied and upgraded them to the “grey list.” The FATF was established in 1989 by the G7 as a special commission with the task of combating international financial crime.

Two years into President Aquino’s term, it appears that progress is being made, though much remains yet to be done. Whether or not the legal battles with Arroyo and Corona are politically motivated, punishing a few high profile corrupt politicians will do little to solve the problem of endemic corruption in the country. The Partnership for Transparency Fund has given grants to several Filipino civil society organizations (CSOs) to help them increase local transparency and accountability. Some examples of funded projects include an effort to get young people involved in anti-corruption through monitoring the money allocated for the Youth Council, an organization bringing transparency-focused CSOs into procurement projects, and a watchdog group monitoring corruption in the health and education sectors. These local projects aim to tackle the problem at the grassroots level, where much of the corruption is out of reach of the central government. Though combating corruption in the Philippines is a daunting task indeed, when citizens resolve to mobilize for greater transparency, they give those participating in it nowhere to hide.

Aquino: Anti-Corruption Program Bearing Fruit?

Doris C. Dumlao wrote in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, “What started as a presidential campaign battlecry is now unlocking the Philippines’ potential to fast-track economic growth, attract more investors and rekindle optimism among its citizens. President Benigno Aquino spoke to the World Economic Forum about his administration’s anti-corruption efforts which he vowed to institutionalize into an “enduring mainstream of progress rather a mere blip in the radar and a case study for failed expectations.” And while the President acknowledged that the work to uplift the lives of his poor countrymen was “far from over,” he said the fight against corruption has so far yielded positive results for the economy, in turn benefiting not only the rich, but the majority of the people. “We want our people to come to expect more from their government; we want to prove that their mandate, given freely during elections, counts for something,” Aquino said. [Source: Doris C. Dumlao, Philippine Daily Inquirer, January 25th, 2013 ==]

“In discussing recent initiatives, Mr. Aquino said there was “rampant corruption” in the government when he first assumed office in 2010, alluding to the rice importation binge of the National Food Authority and anomalous road projects under the Department of Public Works and Highways. He also cited the impeachment of former Supreme Court Justice Renato Corona for the non-disclosure of the bulk of his wealth. Secretary Ramon Carandang also briefed visiting Philippine media about the anti-corruption session. “What brought everybody together was that you had governments that were taking concrete steps and they were willing to share what they learned,” Carandang said. ==

“I think this is good because… when they hear straight from the leaders about what they are doing to fight corruption, I think it helps instil confidence in them because every one of those people was a potential investor in our country. So when you explain all these things to them, they sometimes act a little surprised because some of the moves that we’ve taken are quite bold. So, I think, it creates a good impression of not just the leadership but the country in general,” he added. ==

Aquino Government Accused of Bias in Fighting Corruption

In June 2014, The Economist reported: “The Philippine police had clapped two senators in jail by June 26th and had two secure hospital rooms ready for a third as they began rounding up politicians accused of stealing public funds. The round-up is rocking the political establishment. It appears to reinvigorate President Benigno Aquino’s campaign against corruption. The hallmark of his presidency, it had flagged since his predecessor, Gloria Arroyo, was arrested on graft charges in 2011. The opposition says the round-up is simply a political vendetta, and that in a genuine campaign members of the ruling coalition would be jailed, too. [Source: The Economist, June 28, 2014 ^+^]

“Ramon “Bong” Revilla, son of an ex-senator, and Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada, the son of an ex-president, were the first senators to be arrested. The third facing prosecution is Juan Ponce “Johnny” Enrile, a veteran of President Ferdinand Marcos’s regime. If convicted, they may face life imprisonment. All are members of the opposition. ^+^

“They are accused of benefiting from the suspected embezzlement of billions of pesos from the Priority Development Assistance Fund, known as the pork barrel. Each year, the government used to give each of the 24 senators 200 million pesos ($4.6 million) from the pork barrel, and each of the 290 congressmen 70 million pesos. They were meant to spend it on development projects. The effect was to give political dynasties the wherewithal to buy the loyalty of generations of voters, and to give presidents the wherewithal to buy the loyalty of the political clans. Last year the Supreme Court ruled the fund illegal, but only after a newspaper exposed a scheme to funnel money from it to bogus NGOs, which would then give kickbacks to politicians. Investigations cast suspicion on dozens of politicians, including some in government. ^+^

“Yet Mr Aquino reacted first by defending the pork barrel, demanding its abolition only after a public outcry. Now opposition figures accuse him of having only opponents prosecuted. The government says it will make more arrests where there is enough evidence, regardless of political affiliation. A graver worry may be how it can govern without some sort of pork barrel. It has been the foundation of the system of patronage that has shored up the political establishment since Mr Aquino’s mother, Corazon Aquino, became president in 1986.” ^+^

Maybe Aquino Has Not Changed Philippines Corruption Culture Much After All

Manuel Mogato of Reuters wrote: ““Filipinos were shocked by media accounts of the opulent lifestyle of the woman who is suspected of running a massive kickback scheme for lawmakers. Janet Lim Napoles, the wife of a former Marine major, has been accused by the Department of Justice of setting up fake non-government organizations that since 2007 received lawmakers' pork barrel funds and then routed the money back to them. The whistleblower, a former associate of Napoles, testified to the Senate in a public hearing that the businesswoman received so much cash she would stash it in the bathtub of her luxury Manila home. Napoles was arrested and charged with plunder in September, along with 30 others including three senators and five former congress members. Before her arrest, Napoles denied involvement in the scheme and said her wealth came from her family's investments in coal mining in Indonesia. [Source: Manuel Mogato, Reuters, October 31, 2013 ^=^]

“The accusations that Aquino himself used public funds to buy off senators has forced him on the defensive and distracted him from his economic agenda. Last week, he reorganized his communications staff and reduced the exposure of two spokespersons who had struggled to deal with the media. The scandal has also sharpened questions over how much Aquino has achieved since he took power in 2010. Despite investigating hundreds of tax evasion and smuggling cases, his government has yet to win a single conviction. ^=^

“Critics say Aquino has failed to support reform measures to reduce the influence of money politics, such as the pending anti-graft Freedom of Information Act. They also say his efforts have targeted political foes far more than allies. "This perception endangers what gains he has made in the past three years and curbs the potential for any sustained gains in the long-term fight against corruption," said Mars Buan, senior analyst at Pacific Strategies and Assessments in Manila. ^=^

Top Philippine Judge Fired for Not Declaring $2.4 Million

In May 2012, an Arroyo-appointed Supreme Court chief justice was fired by the Philippines Senate in an impeachment trial for failing to declare $2.4 million in bank accounts. Hrvoje Hranjski of Associated Press wrote: “Chief Justice Renato Corona has called the effort to oust him a threat to democracy. He said his omission was not an impeachable offense and that a 1974 bank privacy law protects foreign deposits from disclosure, while prosecutors argued the constitution mandates a full declaration of assets for someone in his position. [Source: Hrvoje Hranjski, Associated Press, May 29, 2012 /*\]

“Corona is considered fired and barred from public office after senators voted 20 to 3 to convict him on charges of betraying public trust and violating the constitution. Corona testified that it wasn't only him who is on trial and challenged all 188 lawmakers who impeached him to disclose their dollar accounts — but there were few takers. Reacting to his conviction, Corona said that he was innocent and that "bad politics' prevailed in his trial. But he suggested he was ready to accept his fate. "I have not committed any wrong," he said, but added that "if this will be for the country's good, I am accepting the difficulties we're going through." /*\

“The nationally televised, five-month-long proceedings gripped the nation like a soap opera, with emotional testimony, political grandstanding and a sideshow family drama. Prosecutors, most of whom are Aquino's allies from the lower House of Representatives, argued that Corona concealed his wealth and offered "lame excuses" to avoid public accountability. Corona said he had accumulated his wealth from foreign exchange when he was still a student. Rep. Rodolfo Farinas, one of the prosecutors, ridiculed the 63-year-old justice, saying he "wants us to believe that when he was in the fourth grade in 1959 he was such a visionary that he already started buying dollars." "It is clear that these were excuses and lies made before the Senate and the entire world," Farinas said in Monday's closing arguments, adding that Corona had declared in his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth less than 2 percent of what he actually owned. /*\

“The prosecution asked if Corona was so rich, why did he need a loan for a car, and Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile quizzed that if Corona had nothing to hide, why the failure to declare all his assets, as mandated by the constitution. Corona's lawyer Serafin Cuevas cited a threat of kidnapping and extortion. Farinas said the big lesson in Corona's conviction was that even the high and mighty in government could fall if they commit any wrongdoing. "This is a victory for justice," he said. /*\

“Aquino’s immediate target in his promise to fight corruption after being elected president in 2010 was former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and her inner circle that includes Corona, who was appointed by Arroyo shortly before she stepped down. "This is not about vendetta," said Budget Secretary Florencio Abad, a close adviser to Aquino. "This is about strengthening the institutions of democracy, the institutions of check and balance." He said the conviction "shows that this country can dispense justice. This encourages people to avail of a judicial process that works even if the accused is a big fish." /*\

Corona has already questioned the legality of the charges against him, but the Supreme Court did not rule on it. This is the first impeachment process to be completed in Philippine history. The trial of former President Joseph Estrada on corruption charges in 2001 was cut short when prosecutors walked out and triggered the country's second "people power" revolt, toppling him. /*\

Filipino Priest Fights Corruption Despite Death Threats

In 2007, Jason Gutierrez of AFP wrote: “The crowd of supporters parted like the Red Sea as former Roman Catholic priest Ed Panlilio stepped out of his campaign headquarters in downtown San Fernando. The building had just received a phoned-in bomb threat. Marked for assassination by gambling barons as well as political enemies, the soft-spoken 53-year-old has so far proved to be an elusive target in a country where life is cheap and an assassin can be hired for a few hundred dollars. [Source: Jason Gutierrez, Agence France-Presse, July 3, 2007 \=\]

“The first priest ever to be elected governor in Philippines, he has changed the political landscape of this predominately Roman Catholic nation where the constitution clearly calls for the separation of church and state. Panlilio beat all the odds in May when he was elected governor of Pampanga, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's bailiwick and the illegal gambling capital of the Philippines. Thousands of impoverished people had come to listen to his speeches in the grueling grassroots campaign while the local media portrayed him as a crusading David challenging the two Goliaths of local politics -- Mark Lapid and Lilia Pineda -- and backed by Arroyo's vast political machinery. \=\

“While his victory may have alienated him from his superiors in the Church who stripped him of his priestly duties analysts say it underscored the public's frustration with so-called traditional politicians who have failed to lift the living standards of their constituents. Panlilio is embarking on a Herculean crusade to clean up the bloated and corrupt provincial bureaucracy and introduce transparency in Pampanga, an agricultural province some 80 kilometers (49 miles) north of Manila. \=\

“Panlilio is the epitome of simplicity, and is most comfortable wearing a plain white shirt, jeans and sandals. Despite the death threats Panlilio refuses to wear a bullet-proof vest, saying: "They are too heavy and too cumbersome." Rubbing the simple crucifix necklace between his fingers, he says: "This is all the protection I need." Even so everywhere he goes there are armed bodyguards provided by the provincial police -- just in case. "I am not afraid. When I ran for governor, I had already given myself up and was prepared for the consequences of my action," Panlilio told AFP. "Those who are threatening us are cowards who don't know how to stand on their own two feet. We cannot be cowed," he said. \=\

“The threats against him are real -- already, three local officials who were key to his campaign have been attacked by unidentified gunmen. One of them, Mario Nulud, was killed while tending his garden in what was seen by many of Panlilio's supporters as a warning to the priest to stop his crusade. The attacks have forced Panlilio to limit public appearances until after his July 1 inauguration. Nevertheless, the death threats continued, including one sent via text message threatening to bomb his headquarters. Panlilio would not publicly say who he suspects are behind the attacks but relatives of those who have been targeted believe the hired guns worked for the family of losing candidate Lilia Pineda, wife of Pampanga's alleged jueteng kingpin Rodolfo Pineda. "We are in constant communication with police about these threats. We are taking adequate measures for our safety," said Panlilio. \=\

Panilio “ says he does not crave power and would gladly return to his ministry once he has fulfilled his official duties. "I am doing this not because of a personal ambition or a craving for power. I have always loved my priestly ministry and I have always found fulfillment in it," he said "A priest running for public office is not an easy thing to accept," he said, stressing that his decision had caused him sleepless nights and entailed giving up his Church duties. He says he has already crossed party lines and remains willing to have political opponents help him in his mission, while making it clear that his office would run on full transparency. "I already miss my church. But I also believe that public office is another way of serving God," he said in a soft voice. "With God at your side, well, how can you fail?" \=\

Filipino Priest Takes on Gambling Barons and the Corrupt Status Quo

Jason Gutierrez of AFP wrote: Panlilio ““He has already began investigating anomalous government contracts and looking at ways of cutting the provincial government's overstaffed workforce but, perhaps more importantly, he has declared war on the operators of a popular illegal numbers game called "jueteng". The underground multi-million-dollar jueteng (pronounced weteng) operations have for years been the major source of revenue for corrupt local politicians. The practice has become so widespread that it partly caused the downfall of president Joseph Estrada in 2001. Among others, Estrada was accused of running a protection racket involving jueteng. [Source: Jason Gutierrez, Agence France-Presse, July 3, 2007 \=\]

“Jueteng barons have become so powerful that they are known to broker political ambitions, channeling millions in campaign funds to those they favor in exchange for them turning a blind eye to their illegal business operations. Panlilio is under no illusion about the job ahead of him and he knows he may not totally eradicate jueteng. "But we have to start somewhere," he says. "Defeating the jueteng lords remains crucial if we are to introducing good governance in a province dominated by Mafia-like, patronage politics....We will address them all in the proper time," he said when asked if he would go all the way against the jueteng barons. \=\

“He said he would first introduce alternative livelihoods to those directly and indirectly employed by jueteng, including those who roam around Pampanga villages collecting bets. Priests would also be urged to use the pulpit to shame those known to play the game. The plan, apparently, is to bleed dry the betting pool in hopes of killing off the gambling network. "The jueteng lords will not have powers if the public supports the anti-gambling drive," Panlilio said, while acknowledging that public education was needed as gambling which is generally accepted in most Asian countries. \=\

“Panlilio crusade against jueteng and corruption "bears the figurative marks of Thermopylae" where outnumbered Spartan troops held off a horde of Persian soldiers with courage, although eventually they failed. "The aim is less to win than to sound a moral call so clear and so convincing for legions to follow later," he said.\=\

“Panlilio says he and a group of advisers were taking crash courses in good governance at a prestigious university to help him better prepare for his role. He shrugs off the negative comments, saying that embarrassed losing candidates want to see him fail. But Panlilio is no stranger to social activism. Over the years, he has built a solid track record for community service by working alongside non-government organisations. He has received various awards from civic groups for his work championing micro-enterprises among the poor as well as protection for children with disabilities. \=\

Obstacles Faced by Filipino Priest in His Fight Against Corruption

Jason Gutierrez of AFP wrote: “Analysts say Panlilio will have a hard time overhauling Pampanga politics. First, he does not have the numbers in the provincial council and second, the political neophyte appears to have lost the support of the Church which frowned on his decision to run. "Panlilio's victory signifies the recovery of Kapampangan (Pampanga residents) self-esteem from the lowest levels to which it had sunk under the successive leadership of corrupt politicians," said sociologist and political analyst Randy David. David said Panlilio's victory was a "bright ray of hope in an otherwise relentlessly gloomy political sky". [Source: Jason Gutierrez, Agence France-Presse, July 3, 2007 \=\]

“He said there was reason to hope that Panlilio, who does not have a political party, would be able to push reforms, although he may also be overwhelmed by the task. "Reluctant individuals, drawn into politics by extra-ordinary circumstances, may often choose to stand above the cesspool of politics, hoping to preserve purity," David said. "They usually end up being overwhelmed by politics, unable to grasp its imperatives or to live with the imperfect choices it represents. "Potent and inspiring as political symbols, they however fail to establish enduring legacies," he said \=\

“Mario Galang, a local governance expert who hails from Pampanga, noted the powerful Catholic Bishop's Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) was not too happy with Panlilio's victory because he was not trained for a political post. Panlilio remains under suspension by the church, apparently to forestall any breach in the wall separating the church and the state. "He's on his own as far as the church is concerned," said Galang, who writes policy reports for the Action for Economic Reforms, a local think tank. He said politics is a game of numbers, and with Panlilio not even backed by a political party he appears to be "off to bad start." "He ran with nobody to point to as running mate, let alone a slate. It's an invitation for trouble," he said. \=\

Public Outrage Over Philippines’ ‘Pork Barrel’ Graft

Charlie Campbell wrote in Time, “The Philippines and corruption go together like pork and mustard. But a fresh inquiry into the country’s so-called pork-barrel culture has produced some of the largest popular protests to hit the nation in years. Pork barrel is a pejorative term for Priority Development Assistance Funds — discretionary annual lump sums of $4.5 million and $1.6 million provided respectively to each of the country’s 24 Senators and 289 Congressmen to pay for local infrastructure and development works. However, much of this cash is simply ferreted away through bogus NGOs and nonsensical initiatives (like $115,000 for “antidengue inoculants” although no dengue-fever vaccine is currently available). In addition, the cash is treated as a slush fund for ensuring political patronage and successful re-election. “It looks like everyone has their hands dipped in the cookie jar,” Malou Mangahas, executive director of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, tells TIME. [Source: Charlie Campbell, Time, September 11, 2013 \^/]

“Although graft is endemic in the Philippines, the sweeping scope of pork barrel has stunned even the most cynical. The scale emerged after a businesswoman named Janet Lim Napoles was accused of laundering staggering sums of money for lawmakers. From 2009 to ’12, Napoles allegedly provided at least six Senators and 26 Congressmen with $224.9 million, according to an Aug. 16 report by the Philippines’ official Commission on Audit. The 49-year-old former Laguna City housewife, who turned herself in to President Benigno Aquino III ostensibly out of fear for her own life, reportedly took a cut of 30 percent while delivering the bulk back to the pockets of politicians — much of it cash delivered furtively in shopping bags. \^/

“The opulent lifestyle enjoyed by Napoles — swanky houses, sports cars and a socialite daughter seen hobnobbing with celebrities including Justin Bieber at L.A. parties — spurred public outrage. “People were scandalized as you are dealing with a country where 80 percent of the people are poor, and the minimum wage doesn’t even reach the poverty line, only to find out that they do have money but they can’t have services because the officials are pocketing the money,” says Harry L. Roque, professor at the University of the Philippines College of Law. \^/

“In response, hordes of seething voters have taken to the street to demand an end to pork-barrel discretionary funding. So far, however, Aquino has only gone as far as to offer more transparency. Under touted reforms, each Senator and Congressman would maintain their current $4.5 million and $1.6 million allocations but must reveal where it is being spent — a half-measure described as “misleading the people” by Roque. “Unless you remove the budgetary entitlement of politicians,” he tells TIME, “there will always be pork.” \^/

“Although Aquino remains untainted by the most serious allegations, he has not been immune to criticism. Aside from lawmakers, the office of the President also comes with a sizable discretionary budget — like calamity relief — and there are calls for this to also be abolished, as well as discretionary development funds for the judiciary and other arms of government. This comes with political risks. “There could be mutiny in the Congress if all pork is phased out,” warns Mangahas. \^/

“Indeed, pursuing legal cases will likely prove troublesome, as both allies and enemies of the executive have been implicated. “It would be difficult to file suits against so many Congressmen,” says Mangahas. In addition, complex graft cases will take several years to reach the courtroom — especially for the expected charges of “plunder” — during which time even more people could be implicated. Investigation attempts are currently focusing on a paper trail via illicit bank accounts, but the likelihood of numerous cash transactions could make gathering primary evidence extremely problematic. \^/

“Nevertheless, the strength of public feeling means that inaction is not an option. “The President wants to finish his term and he will make sure [something is done] as people are very, very mad,” explains Roque, adding that some token convictions will likely be forced through as quickly as possible. A long-awaited Freedom of Information Act is also receiving widespread public backing as it will give media the tools to properly investigate alleged impropriety. “I’m hoping that this anger will redefine Philippine politics and end the cycle of vote buying and corruption,” says Roque. \^/

Facebook Rallies Thousands to Philippines Graft Protest

In August 2013, up to 100,000 people gathered in central Manila at Rizal Park to protest against embedded corruption in the Philippine political system after a rallying call on Facebook and Twitter. AFP reported: “The so-called "million people march" is one of the largest public demonstrations since President Benigno Aquino was elected in 2010 on an anti-corruption platform. The protesters ranged from nuns and priests and students to businessmen, middle-class families, lawyers and other professionals, showcasing the broad-based anger over graft in the impoverished nation. "The Filipino people are now modern. Proof is the million people march that we can't be fooled by our leaders anymore," a protester calling himself Gundam08 tweeted from the rally site. [Source: AFP, August 26, 2013 *+*]

“Government officials' misuse of funds has been long embedded and practically accepted in the Philippine political system but a series of newspaper articles, like about how government funds were allegedly diverted into private hands, have stirred new anger outside of the usual protest groups. The calls for the protest began circulating on Facebook and Twitter about two weeks ago after reports in the popular Philippine Daily Inquirer of an alleged scam involving legislators' Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF).*+*

“The PDAF is money allocated for lawmakers to be used in their pet development projects. Critics see it as funding "pork barrel" projects which have traditionally been a source of corruption. At the centre of the controversy is a woman the newspapers reported to have allegedly connived with legislators to siphon off some 10 billion pesos ($230 million) from the fund. Aquino had previously expanded the PDAF under his 2014 budget so that each senator will receive 200 million pesos ($4.5 million) while each member of the House of Representatives gets 70 million pesos for their "pork barrel." But in the face of growing anger earlier this month, he had suspended the releases of money and vowed to reform the PDAF system. *+*

“The protestors, carrying signs saying "Abolish pork barrel" and "Change the culture of political patronage," were peaceful even if they appeared to have no leader, said national police spokesman Senior Superintendent Reuben Sindac. "It's a very respectable gathering. There are families here like a picnic. They are policing their own ranks. This is purely social-network propelled," he told AFP while monitoring the rally. Of the huge crowd at the Luneta Park, only a few hundred were from the leftist protest groups that usually lead such street protests, he said. *+*

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Philippines Department of Tourism, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated June 2015

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