Philippine leader hit with impeachment complaint

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Associated Press

Posted on July 21, 2014 at 3:32 AM

Updated Monday, Jul 21 at 4:05 AM

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Twenty-eight people, including prominent activists and a retired Catholic bishop, filed an impeachment complaint Monday against Philippine President Benigno Aquino III for his implementation of a major economic stimulus program that the Supreme Court has declared partly unconstitutional.

The complaint, filed in the House of Representatives, accuses Aquino of culpable violation of the constitution and betrayal of public trust by funding projects outside the Congress-approved annual budget. Lawmakers from three left-wing political parties endorsed it, making it the first valid impeachment complaint against Aquino, but it's unclear whether it will get enough support in a Congress dominated by Aquino allies.

Aquino has said that under the Disbursement Acceleration Program, enforced from 2011 to last year, government savings and non-allotted revenues were used to provide electricity to remote villages, build schools and finance other projects. He has insisted that his administration acted in good faith and the money was not stolen, as alleged by critics.

The son of revered pro-democracy icons, Aquino won the presidency by a wide margin in 2010 on a promise to rid his Southeast Asian nation of corruption and widespread poverty.

The Supreme Court ruled early this month that Aquino and his officials violated the constitution when they used the executive branch's financial savings to augment the funding of other offices outside that branch of government. It said excess, non-allotted funds were withdrawn from some government agencies and were declared as savings even before the end of a fiscal year.

The administration has appealed the court's ruling, saying the use of savings and unused funds pooled under the disbursement mechanism was legal and within the president's authority under the constitution.

Monday's impeachment complaint said Aquino violated the constitution when he "usurped the powers of the legislature and undermined the system of checks and balances." It said he betrayed public trust on several grounds, including when he illegally centralized billions of pesos in public funds and rechanneled them to his pet projects and favored politicians, and "committed tyrannical abuse of power when he usurped the power of the purse of Congress."

Aquino has said the Supreme Court failed to take into account the legal basis that his government used in appropriating revenue savings for projects in one government branch to another.

He said the funds used in his program were different from the Priority Development Assistance Fund — government development and anti-poverty money allocated to pet projects of lawmakers that the Supreme Court has struck down as unconstitutional.

Three powerful senators have been indicted on charges of receiving huge kickbacks from the anti-poverty funds. They have denied any wrongdoing, but have been detained by police while awaiting trial.

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