Three Philippine lawmakers back move to impeach Aquino

MANILA Mon Jul 21, 2014 5:12am EDT

Philippines President Benigno Aquino gestures as he answers questions during the annual forum of the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines (FOCAP) at a hotel in Manila October 17, 2012. REUTERS/Cheryl Ravelo

Philippines President Benigno Aquino gestures as he answers questions during the annual forum of the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines (FOCAP) at a hotel in Manila October 17, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Cheryl Ravelo

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MANILA (Reuters) - Three Philippine politicians on Monday threw their weight behind a bid to impeach President Benigno Aquino after the top court ruled his economic stimulus fund was illegal, although his control of the legislature is likely to thwart the attempt.

Two citizens' groups filed a complaint against Aquino a week before Congress reopens for its second regular session, accusing him of betraying the public trust and violating the constitution.

"President Aquino cannot invoke or feign good faith or regularity of his acts since he created, implemented and defended the Disbursement Allocation Program and all unconstitutional acts under it," they said.

The complaint refers to a 145-billion-peso ($3.34-billion) economic stimulus fund to boost public spending created by Aquino in 2011. But some of the money went to allies in Congress, a constitutional violation.

Monday's case is the second move to impeach Aquino after a complaint last week by a former congressman, as record low popularity ratings in the two most recent independent opinion polls leave the president looking vulnerable.

However, Aquino has unprecedented control of both houses of Congress. His opponents need the votes of 96 of the 290 members in order to impeach him. The upper house needs two-thirds of the 24 senators to remove him from office.

Congressmen Neri Colmenares, Fernando Hicap and Carlos Zarate endorsed Monday's complaint, which now goes to the House Committee on Justice to decide whether it has substance.

Even if the move is not ultimately successful, the lengthy impeachment process will consume a lot of lawmakers' time in weighing its merits and perhaps delaying other key legislation.

Edwin Lacierda, the president's spokesman, declined to comment on the issue, leaving the president's allies in Congress to decide on the complaint.

"This is a valid complaint, we will take this up," said Niel Tupas, head of the justice panel in the lower house of Congress and a close ally of the president.

"At the end of the day, it will be a numbers game because this is a purely political process."

On July 1, the top court ruled Aquino's administration had violated the constitution when it collected "savings" from executive offices and distributed them to lawmakers to fund projects not approved in the budget.

On Monday, court employees wore black and red shirts in protest after Aquino, the son of former president and democracy icon Corazon Aquino, warned top court judges of a possible constitutional crisis if they did not reverse their decision in his favor. ($1=43.4200 Philippine pesos)

(Reporting by Manuel Mogato; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

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