Filipinos Hold Mass Protest Over Official Corruption
By Floyd Whaley, NY Times, August 26, 2013
MANILA—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.
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. Her passport has been revoked, and she is the subject of a nationwide search.
Ms. Lim-Napoles denied the accusations in news media interviews conducted before the warrant was issued, but public anger grew with the circulation of the photographs showing the lavish living of her daughter, Jeane Lim-Napoles, 23.
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.
A series of corruption cases this year have involved a variety of government agencies.
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.
In another scandal, labor officials were accused of sexually harassing Filipino women working in the Middle East who were seeking shelter at Philippine Embassies. On Aug. 15, one woman told a Senate committee that she had been raped by her employer in Saudi Arabia and that when she sought help at the Philippine Embassy, an official asked her whether she had enjoyed it.
The latest Global Corruption Barometer report, produced by the anticorruption group Transparency International and released in July, found that 38 percent of Filipinos perceived corruption as having decreased significantly in the past two years. That is an improvement from 6 percent in 2010 and 2011. Of the 107 countries involved in the survey, the Philippines was one of 11 where respondents reported an improving situation.
The report also said that although the Aquino administration could point to some high-profile successes, it had not been as effective in changing the institutions of government.
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."