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Philippines president Benigno Aquino urged to give up funds

Popular actor calls for resignation of Senate president Frank Drilon

Gulf News

Manila: On the eve of a major anti-corruption rally on Ayala Avenue in Makati City, the financial district, influential Senator Miriam Santiago called on President Benigno Aquino to give up his own nondiscretionary funds, also called “pork barrel,” now an ugly word among Filipinos who have been outraged by series of reported alleged misuse of government funds.

“If he wants to keep his moral ascendancy, it should come from him motu propio to say, ‘Since anything I do will be pursuant to law and I do not have any kickbacks or I am not going to steal anyway, these (presidential discretionary funds should be placed in the (national) budget,” said Senator Santiago.

The president’s discretionary funds include P2.5 billion (Dh208 million) social fund from the government-run Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR); P130 billion in royalties from the Malampaya gas project off Palawan in southwestern Philippines.

Malampaya fund has no congressional participation, Santiago said.

At the same time, Santiago advised Aquino to oust Budget Secretary Florencio Abad, who was behind the disbursement of P50million additional development funds to each of several senators in October 2012, five months after majority of them voted to impeach former Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona in May 2012.

The additional development funds for the senators were sourced from the Development Accelerated Program (DAP), which is composed of accrued savings from line agencies, the expenditure of which was not constitutional, experts said.

DAP has become like Aquino’s own “pork barrel,” several critics said.

Warning those who might be tempted to file impeachment complaint against Aquino at the House of Representatives because of DAP’s disbursement, Santiago said, “It will not prosper.”

“You can impeach a president for culpable violation of constitution or bribery which is a definite offense under the impeachment provision but to be able to do that, you have to prove the President intended in his mind to misappropriate these funds. I don’t think theoretically he will qualify for impeachment,” the senator explained.

Aquino controls majority of the House of Representatives and the Senate. Moreover, he will not be impeached by the senators and congressmen who alleged received additional development funds from the DAP fund.

Impeaching the president “would be impossible in human terms because the money partly went to the representatives and the senators,” said Santiago, adding, “If they impeach the president, they would be, in effect, admitting at the very least (that they are) accomplices and accessories to a crime.”

Aquino earlier said the release of the DAP fund was not a bribe or a reward to senators who impeached the former chief justice of the Supreme Court. The best option is to elevate before the Supreme Court to question the legality of juggling funds from the DAP, said Santiago.

Funneling savings of government agencies (source of the DAP fund) into new projects should have congressional approval, described Santiago, adding that the failure of the executive level or the budget department to inform lawmakers about the existence of the DAP fund “violates the equal protection clause of the Constitution, which is a keystone of all human rights.”

When he was a senator, Aquino filed a bill that limits the president’s power to juggle funds unless it is approved by Congress,” said Santiago, adding, “I intend to refile the bill in the senate.”

Meanwhile, popular actor Robin Padilla called for the resignation of Senate President Franklin Drilon, who also received P100 million from DAP funds.

“They are all dirty,” said Padilla on TV.

A poll conducted by ABS CBN on the veracity of Padilla’s claim, 93 percent said they agreed with him.

No one has called for the resignation of House Speaker Sonny Belmonte, who also defended the realignment of the DAP fund for additional development assistance for congressmen.

Organisers of a protest rally in Makati City on Friday said they are close to getting a million signature for the abolition of allocated development funds, the expenditures of which are nondiscretionary, to lawmakers and the president. The holding of a series of anti-corruption rallies began since August 26.