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The Philippines’ ‘Anti-Corruption’ President Is Facing Impeachment Calls Over Accusations of Corruption

Philippine President Benigno Aquino III. Photo from the official Facebook page of the government

Philippine President Benigno Aquino III. Photo from the official Facebook page of the government

Philippine President Benigno ‘Noynoy’ Aquino III won on an anti-corruption platform in 2010. Four years later, some are calling for his impeachment for what they see as systemic corruption and patronage politics.

At the center of the criticism is the 177-billion-peso (US$4.086-billion) Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), created shortly after Aquino took office. The program, which was supposed to stimulate the economy, allowed the executive to transfer funds from different agencies and branches of the government into other projects that is favored by the executive.

The implementation of DAP was stopped after the Supreme Court ruled on July 1 that it is unconstitutional. Under the law, Congress has the exclusive power to allocate funds. Critics assailed the DAP as another form of pork barrel under the sole discretion of the president. Opposition Senator Jinggoy Estrada exposed DAP as the source of money used to bribe senators to impeach former Chief Justice Renato Corona.

The first impeachment complaint was lodged in Congress on July 22 by 28 people coming from anti-corruption groups. The second complaint, filed on July 23, was signed by 25 student leaders coming from various universities. A third impeachment complaint, which was lodged by activist groups to Congress on July 24, has also been filed in connection to the government’s Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement with the United States. Complainants said violates constitutional prohibition of the presence of foreign troops and bases in the country.

President Aquino aggressively defended DAP in a live televised speech on primetime TV, saying the program is legal and beneficial to the public as a stimulus to drive economic growth. This infographic below, released by the government, identifies some of the DAP projects which allegedly boosted the country's disaster preparedness:

dap projects

But Ibon, a progressive think tank, used government documents to show that DAP projects have little contribution to the economy:

DAP Infographic

Many observers are asserting that pushing the impeachment case forward is difficult because of a solid administration majority in Congress, the branch with the power to formally charge a government official for impeachment. Yet former legislator Teddy Casino said that impeachment will hold the president accountable for DAP and other issues:

This is to be expected. After all, the SC decision categorically states that the President violated the Constitution and the law. The logical next step would be to hold him accountable. Since the President is immune from suit, the only way to exact accountability is to impeach him first, then file the appropriate criminal charges after.

According to veteran activist Carol Araullo, the president has become more unpopular by the day because of the DAP controversy with majority of the people feeling betrayed by another elite government that promised reforms with populist rhetoric:

Mr. Aquino is deluded if he thinks he can muster a spontaneous outpouring of support from the people who may have been earlier hoodwinked into believing his anti-corruption/good governance rant… His plea for people to “tie a yellow ribbon” to show their support for his administration has fallen on deaf ears so much so that his spokesman has had to tell the public not to take it seriously.

Nevertheless, the president still has defenders. The blog Perspectives in Development and Evaluation, for instance, believes that DAP is perfectly legal and is beneficial to the public.

The Executive Branch needs some funds or access to funds in order to realize it’s set objectives. I’m not in agreement to the proposal that the Executive (or the Legislative) run absolutely without funds. It’s simply unrealistic. Even company CEOs are provided some funds.

Meanwhile, an online campaign has been encouraging netizens to post photos of themselves with messages for President Aquino regarding DAP. Many are asking why they have not benefited from DAP despite the repeated claims of the government that the program boosted the domestic economy and improved the lives of the poor.

"The education budget is insufficient. Where is the DAP Mr. President?"

“The education budget is insufficient. Where is the DAP Mr. President?”

"Where is the DAP that you boasted for [supertyphoon] Yolanda victims? We don't feel it."

“Where is the DAP for [super typhoon] Yolanda victims that you boasted about? We don't feel it.”

"Why are many still unemployed these days when you said we are your boss?. Where did DAP go?"

“Why are many still unemployed these days when you said we are your boss? Where did DAP go?”

A Radical Nut, an activist researcher, notes that the handling of the impeachment process by the President’s political allies in Congress will determine the shape of the brewing political crisis.

The Aquino administration firmly controls the lower house and, like the Arroyo regime, will surely use all its influence and resources – including massive presidential discretionary funds – to dictate the outcome of the impeachment… But for the people, all these only highlight how rotten the prevailing political system is.

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