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Aquino to address nation today amid graft charges against aides

MANILA AS he makes his fourth State of the Nation Address (SONA) on Monday, Philippine President Benigno Aquino III’s “daang matuwid (straight path)” policy to stop corruption is under scrutiny in the wake of allegations that transportation and communication officials tried to extort $30 million from a Czech train supplier and that bogus NGOs funnelled P10 billion in pork barrel into ghost projects.

Akbayan Representative Walden Bello said appointees of Aquino have been accused by a foreign diplomat of trying to extort money from potential investors in the capacity expansion and modernisation of MRT3, the commuter train system along Edsa, which has been suffering from passenger congestion due to a limited supply of coaches.

“The DOTC controversy is the most serious since the people accused by the Czech ambassador are appointees of the administration and not insignificant ones. We don’t want to end up with a pure president surrounded by dirt and slime,” said Bello in a text message.

Josef Rychtar, Czech Republic ambassador to the Philippines, has accused officials of the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) led by MRT general manager Al Vitangcol of demanding $30 million from Inekon Group. The firm was reportedly blacklisted after rejecting the bribe demand.

The Czech ambassador said the extortion attempt was made when Manuel Roxas II, now interior secretary, was the DOTC head. His handpicked officials in the department have been retained by his replacement, Transportation Secretary Joseph Abaya. Both Roxas and Abaya are highranking officials of the ruling Liberal Party.

For the first time in the past three years, ACT Teachers Representative Antonio Tinio said the clamour for the abolition of the pork barrel reached a crescendo that even the president could not ignore.

The clamour came amid the P10-billion pork barrel racket of Janet Lim Napoles involving five senators, 23 members of the House of Representatives, and more than a dozen fake NGOs and ghost projects in the past 10 years.

“I think the P10-billion pork barrel scam is the ultimate test case for daang matuwid as an anti-corruption campaign. Will (Aquino) ensure a thorough investigation that spares no one, or will this be an exercise in scapegoating, damage control, and selective demolition of political opponents?” said Tinio in a text message to the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

“His abolition of the pork barrel will be the lasting legacy of daang matuwid. Otherwise, it will just be another anti-corruption showcase that ultimately leaves institutionalised corruption and patronage intact.”

Tinio said that the president’s initial reaction to the public outcry for the abolition of the priority development assistance fund (PDAF) has “exposed the limits” of his anti-corruption campaign, which he kicked off to a rousing applause when he took office in July 2010.

“Evidently, he’s unwilling to go as far as dismantling the system of patronage politics at the root of corruption in government. No wonder, since the Aquino administration has shown that it is no less adept at manipulating government resources, including PDAF and the CCT (conditional cash transfer), for expanding the Liberal Party base,” said Tinio.

Bello said a conviction of former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who has been detained due to her trial for plunder and electoral sabotage, would not be enough.

“I think the administration is determined to convict GMA (Arroyo), but the judicial system is what is holding things up. But the pork barrel scam shows you have to really push deeper into the system to root out corruption and not be satisfied with just getting people at the top like GMA,” said Bello.

The president’s allies were quick to downplay the slew of news involving corruption in the last few weeks heading to the SONA.


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