Aquino Says Funds Scandal a Distraction for Philippine Congress

Philippine President Benigno Aquino said Congress may struggle to focus on his reform agenda given a scandal over the misuse of public funds.

“I’m concerned the legislature can be distracted with all these issues,” Aquino told reporters today in Manila. The government is seeking to address concerns about public money “so that we can focus on doing the things that have to be done. For the legislature, that is to craft the necessary laws for the problems that we are now facing.”

In the second half of his six-year term, Aquino, 53, is seeking to raise revenue by having Congress pass a bill rationalizing tax breaks for companies. He also needs approval for a law to implement a peace deal with Muslim rebels in the south. He raised excise taxes on tobacco and alcohol and made contraceptives free to the poor in his first three years in office.

Government prosecutors have recommended plunder charges against three senators, former congressmen and a businesswoman for alleged misuse of the Priority Development Assistance Fund or PDAF, which lawmakers deployed at their discretion on infrastructure and development projects. Aquino pledged to stamp out so-called pork-barrel budgets after thousands of people turned to social media to criticize the system.

“The public was outraged. This is an outrage that we share, that is why we abolished the PDAF,” he said. While the fund was scrapped, lawmakers can still suggest projects to the government to help ensure the needs of those in rural areas are met, Aquino added, citing his experience as a congressman in Tarlac province for nine years and senator for three years.

Aquino Popularity

“Not only are lawmakers distracted, this might have an impact on the President’s popularity and make him vulnerable to attacks,” Ramon Casiple, Executive Director of the Institute for Political and Electoral Reform, said by phone.

Aquino’s net satisfaction rating dropped 15 points to plus 49 -- or “good” -- in a poll conducted Sept. 20-23 by Social Weather Stations, near a record low of plus 42 in May 2012. The poll, reported in BusinessWorld, surveyed 1,200 people with a 3 percentage-point margin of error.

An e-mail poll conducted Sept. 14-27 by Pulse Asia Research showed 77 percent of respondents believe “at least half” of the PDAF is lost to corruption. Pulse Asia polled 1,200 adults and the survey had a margin of error of 3 percentage points.

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