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Philippines' civil groups seek firm actions against corruption

With potentially dozens of lawmakers in the Philippines involved in a huge corruption scandal known as the 'pork barrel' scam, civil groups and analysts want the government to speed up efforts to wipe out rampant corruption in its ranks.

MANILA: With potentially dozens of lawmakers in the Philippines involved in a huge corruption scandal known as the 'pork barrel' scam, civil groups and analysts want the government to speed up efforts to wipe out rampant corruption in its ranks.

The scam involved lawmakers directing public money to fake charities to use in development projects of their choice, mostly agricultural.

But these ill-gotten gains are then funnelled back into personal accounts.

President Benigno Aquino says the filing of these cases is proof of his administration's seriousness in wiping out corruption in government.

But critics say it is still too early to call victory and that the public must remain vigilant and monitor the progress of these cases.

Civil society groups led by the Scrap Pork Network say the government must prosecute those involved in the 'pork barrel' scheme, regardless of their political affiliations.

Argee Guevarra, activist lawyer of Scrap Pork Network, said: "Seventy per cent of our legislators have directed their pork funds into their pockets. These are not all opposition senators. Now the majority of the Senate and the House of Representatives belong to the close allies of the president. Why has he not vigorously pursue the campaign to cleanse the government to include his allies of graft and corruption?"

According to President Aquino, his government loses billions of dollars a year to fraud.

Anti-corruption advocates in the Philippines have urged the government to deal with systemic corruption decisively.

Otherwise, they said it could restrict the country's impressive performance as one of Asia's fastest growing economies.

Vincent Lazatin, Executive Director of Transparency and Accountability Network, said: "These trials are a litmus test of our ability to see this through and to try some of the most powerful people that this country has seen. If we fail to try these cases fairly and openly, then that is a couple of steps backward for us.

"Investors and businessmen want to see a stable environment and corruption creates an uneven playing field, creates uncertainty. And a lot of businessmen and investors wouldn't want to make long-term plans in that kind of environment."

The Philippines may have improved in rankings set out by anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International last year.

But deep-seated problems persist, and the coming months will see more officials, including President Aquino's allies, face graft charges or inquiries relating to the 'pork barrel' scam. 

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