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Philippine bishops call for government to purge itself amid graft scandal

Church leaders urge President Aquino Benigno's government to oust the guilty

Joe Torres, Manila

Joe Torres, Manila

Published: July 04, 2014 08:25 AM GMT

Updated: July 03, 2014 09:28 PM GMT

Philippine bishops call for government to purge itself amid graft scandal

Protesters call for President Benigno Aquino to step down in a rally outside his office in Manila (Photo by Vincent Go)

Catholic bishops on Friday challenged the Philippines government to purge its own ranks of corrupt officials after the Supreme Court ruled a controversial state funding program unconstitutional.

Opposition senators have already been indicted following Tuesday’s verdict on the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), dubbed the “pork-barrel scheme”, which allowed the budget department to disburse funds without proper authorization.

But pressure is mounting for the ruling party of President Benigno Aquino to take action against its own members as opposition congressmen look to impeach the president.

“A government that professes to tread the straight path must remain true to that profession and must be willing to let go of the corrupt in its own ranks,” said the bishops’ statement released ahead of their annual meeting on Saturday.

Opposition senators Juan Ponce-Enrile, Ramon Revilla Jr and Jose Estrada, son of former president Joseph Estrada, have all been charged with plunder, the most serious corruption charge.

“There is no reason to direct our ire only at the three senators … we are all guilty by attitude and by our disposition,” said the bishops’ statement which was signed by Archbishop Socrate Villegas.

The bishops said that while they are demanding “honesty and fairness” from the government, the Philippines Church would also cleanse its ranks. The statement added that many, but not all, bishops had already set up accountability systems for their pastors and parish leaders.

Meanwhile, the president's office has maintained that Aquino has already taken full responsibility for the scandal suggesting there were no plans to dismiss ministers and other high-ranking officials.

“In the final analysis, the president is the chief executive and the members of the cabinet performed the role of alter ego, and whatever role that they perform is only an extension of the personality of the president himself,” presidential spokesman Herminio Coloma said in a statement.

Opposition senator Miriam Defensor Santiago, an expert in constitutional law, said Aquino can be impeached for approving the creation and use of the DAP but that such a move requires support from Congress where he enjoys majority backing from the ruling party.

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“I [don’t] think it’s bound to pay off, but I will not blame them [for the] attempt, to test the water, and to float a trial balloon because it is a violation of the constitution, as the Supreme Court has already said," the legislator said.

The DAP came under fire last year after several senators complained that funds had been used as "incentives" for legislators who supported the 2012 impeachment of Renato Corona, a former chief justice and a political foe of the president. 

The mechanism, which was established in 2011 under Aquino, aimed to rapidly disburse government funds following the global financial crisis.

Government critics maintained that since its inception, the DAP is effectively illegal and no different from the notorious Priority Development Assistance Fund, that was also commonly known as the "pork barrel".  

The People’s Initiative to Abolish Pork Barrel, an alliance of organizations, said at least US$21 billion from the scheme can still be found in the 2014 national budget.

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