Philippines holds second senator, ex-leader's son, for corruption

MANILA Mon Jun 23, 2014 3:22am EDT

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MANILA (Reuters) - A second senator, the son of a former president ousted in 2001 on corruption charges, turned himself in to authorities on Monday after an anti-graft court ordered his arrest for the misuse of congressional funds.

President Benigno Aquino took office in 2010 on a platform of good governance and fighting graft. He has been trying to shed the country's image as one of the most corrupt in Asia, removing and sending to prison top politicians and generals.

Jose "Jinggoy" Estrada, the second senator to surrender in a week on plunder charges, said he was innocent of any allegations of wrongdoing. He appeared at a police detention center, accompanied by his family, including his father Joseph, former president and now mayor of Manila.

"It's not really plunder," said Estrada, a two-term senator. "I'll prove to my critics and detractors that I'll emerge victorious because I have done nothing wrong."

The case against him, he said, was politically motivated.

"We have been humiliated for years. We have been convicted even before the trial begins. I feel so bad," he said.

Both Estrada and Senator Ramon "Bong" Revilla, who turned himself in last week, are former action movie stars. They are to be held in the same detention facility pending trial.

Estrada faces life imprisonment and forfeiture of any assets he may have illegally acquired if found guilty of pocketing more than 183 million pesos ($4.17 million) from congressional funds from 2007 to 2010.

Prosecutors, citing government-commissioned reports and witness testimony, said he had diverted congressional funds, known as "pork barrel", to non-existent non-government organizations for agricultural projects.

The money was then plowed back to him, government officials and a businesswoman who devised the scheme, according to prosecutors. Aquino abolished such funds last year after the scandal surfaced.

THIRD SENATOR

A third opposition senator faces similar charges: Juan Ponce Enrile, 90, a former president of the Senate and a hero of a 1986 pro-democracy "people power" uprising that swept to power Aquino's mother, Corazon Aquino. He has asked the court to spare him detention due to his age and poor health.

In 2001, Estrada escaped prosecution on corruption charges, but his populist father was convicted of plunder six years later. The elder Estrada was pardoned by former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, now in detention and facing similar plunder charges for actions committed during her nine years in office.

Aquino says the government loses 200 billion pesos a year to corruption, about 1.8 percent of economic output, draining state coffers and entrenching poverty in the country of 97 million.

But things have improved. last year the Philippines moved 11 places up the rankings of anti-corruption watchdog, Transparency International, reaching 94th spot out of 177 countries.

The 105th place 2012 ranking was a significant improvement from 129th a year earlier. Six years ago, under a previous administration, the Philippines stood in 141st spot.

But problems persist. Some of Aquino's allies face graft inquiries and the smuggling of commodities, such as rice, is rampant. ($1 = 43.8600 Philippine pesos)

(Additional reporting by Lara Murallos; Editing by Ron Popeski)

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