Amid corruption worry, Aquino to reform govt fund

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Philippine President Benigno Aquino III promised Friday to reform a corruption-plagued system that allows lawmakers to allocate government funds for projects in their district after an audit found that millions of dollars were misused.

The government audit said last week that $141 million allocated over a three-year period was released to questionable aid groups and ghost projects identified by lawmakers as beneficiaries.

The scandal centered on a powerful businesswoman who allegedly collaborated with lawmakers in channeling some of the funds and went into hiding after she was charged with illegal detention of a whistle-blower.

Critics say the system promotes corruption, with citizens’ and pressure groups calling for a protest rally Monday to demand that Aquino abolish the practice.

Aquino, who has made fighting against corruption a centerpiece of his administration, said there was nothing “intrinsically wrong” with the system but it has been abused by “a few greedy individuals.”

He vowed to prosecute those responsible for misusing the fund.

“What is wrong — indeed, what has outraged our people — was the collusion among a former president ready to trade favors just to remain in power, legislators, and members of the bureaucracy who were willing to conspire, enabled by a passive and indifferent citizenry,” Aquino said.

He was referring to his predecessor, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, who has been detained in a hospital on corruption and election sabotage charges.

He said under the new system, legislators could still identify projects but they would need approval and would be closely scrutinized.

Aquino also issued guidelines to safeguard public funds, including the publication of bids and awarding of projects.

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