A third opposition member of the Philippine senate was arrested yesterday as part of an alleged 10 billion-peso ($230 million) theft of government funds that has tested President Benigno Aquino’s pledge to curb corruption.
Senator Juan Ponce Enrile, 90, surrendered at the national police headquarters in Quezon City, greater Manila yesterday following his indictment last month on charges he stole at least 172.8 million pesos of congressional funds from 2004 to 2010. His former chief aide and co-accused, lawyer Gigi Reyes, also turned herself in.
Enrile was one of the central officials in the martial-law administration of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos and has been in government for almost five decades. Critics of the president have said he is pursuing selective prosecution and protecting allies embroiled in a kickback scheme that allegedly benefited at least 120 sitting and former legislators.
Aquino said on June 12 that due process had been followed and the cases against opposition senators aren’t spurred by politics.
“We are one with the people in their collective aspirations for truth and justice to prevail,” Communications Secretary Sonny Coloma said in an e-mailed statement yesterday.
Enrile’s arrest follows those of Senator Jinggoy Estrada on June 23 and Senator Bong Revilla on June 20. Estrada, a son of former president Joseph Estrada, is alleged to have pocketed at least 183.8 million pesos of his discretionary budget, and Revilla is alleged to have stolen at least 224.5 million pesos.
All three men were indicted on June 6. No date for their trials has been set.
Enrile on Jan. 6 denied taking any funds, saying his only role was to identify development projects.
Courts entered a not-guilty plea for Revilla and Estrada last month after they refused to plead. Businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles, charged with operating the kickback scheme, pleaded guilty to similar charges.
The Philippine Daily Inquirer exposed the 10 billion-peso fund scam in July 2013, sparking a government investigation that focused on Napoles as the alleged mastermind. She was arrested over a separate criminal case a month later.
The Supreme Court in November stripped lawmakers of their discretionary power to allocate funds for infrastructure and development, known as pork-barrel budgets, ruling the practice illegal. It also barred the country’s president from using his social fund to finance priority infrastructure development projects.
The high court this past week also voided parts of Aquino’s stimulus package, a portion of which was given to certain legislators as perks.
Aquino pledged to stamp out pork-barrel budgets last August after thousands turned to social media to criticize the system. Civic groups took to the streets on June 12 to seek the removal of politicians embroiled in the scandal, which threatens to tarnish Aquino’s anti-corruption credentials.
Aquino’s term ends in 2016, and he is barred by law from seeking re-election.
Enrile is a Harvard Law School graduate who served as Senate president from 2008 to 2013. He helped overthrow the Marcos regime when he was defense minister in a 1986 coup d’etat that put Corazon Aquino, Benigno Aquino’s mother, in power. He was jailed for rebellion and released for insufficient evidence at least twice in the late 1980s and in 2001 under then-president Gloria Arroyo.
After his arrest yesterday, Enrile was transfered to a police hospital with elevated blood pressure, Chief Superintendent Reuben Theodore Sindac told reporters.