Tens of thousands protest corruption in Philippines

Tens of thousands of Filipinos protested in Manila on Monday, outraged over accusations that an estimated $141 million in public money had been diverted into the coffers of politicians and their associates. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/27/world/asia/filipinos-stage-anticorruption-protest-in-manila.html?ref=world  The peaceful four-hour rally was fueled in part by photographs posted on social media sites by the daughter of one of the suspects in the case, showing an extravagance that earned her the title “the new Imelda,” after the wife of the longtime dictator Ferdinand Marcos.
President Benigno S. Aquino III, the fifth president since Marcos, has made fighting corruption a hallmark of his three-year-old administration. But scandals have persisted over extrajudicial killings by the police, sexual harassment by diplomats, and extortion and bribery within government agencies.

The one that drove protesters into the streets on Monday involved accusations in a government audit that members of Congress worked with associates to divert discretionary public funds to sham organizations and questionable projects in return for bribes.

The National Bureau of Investigation has issued an arrest warrant for a Manila businesswoman, Janet Lim-Napoles, who is suspected of having facilitated some of the corrupt transactions with lawmakers.

The daughter, a fashion school graduate, sprinkled her Facebook, Twitter and other social media pages with photographs and videos of herself in London, Los Angeles and Paris. Other photos cataloged her luxury shoe collection and showed her sitting atop a Porsche, while a video of her 21st birthday party in Beverly Hills, Calif., showed expensive liquor and tables of sushi. She was also photographed with Justin Bieber and Justin Timberlake at the MTV Movie Awards.

In March, Sungjun Park, a fugitive hiding in the Philippines who was wanted in his native South Korea in connection with an investment scheme, casually left the Philippines via the Manila airport. Rather than capturing him, Philippine government agents assisted him in avoiding detection while immigration officers used their cellphones and looked the other way. The scene was captured by airport video cameras and broadcast nationwide in the Philippines.

On July 23, the chief of the Philippine National Police announced that 14 officers were being detained in connection with the July 15 killing of two high-profile criminal suspects in their custody. There was speculation that the men were killed because they were going to disclose the names of corrupt police officers.

While those officers were in detention, several detectives in an unrelated case were placed under investigation by the Department of Justice after witnesses claimed that they stole cash and drugs from an underworld leader they had arrested.

Despite the scandals, Mr. Aquino has received praise from the World Bank, financial rating agencies and others for his efforts to combat corruption.

Vincent Lazatin, the executive director of the Transparency and Accountability Network, an anticorruption group, said that high-profile convictions did little to stop the rampant bribery and extortion within Philippine government agencies, including the Bureau of Customs, the Bureau of Internal Revenue and the police.
“There hasn’t been a trickle-down effect on everyday corruption,” he said. “The corrupt cop on the street, the corrupt customs official, they haven’t changed.”

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