US to test Aquino's pledge to fight corruption

By Rodney Jaleco, ABS-CBN North America News Bureau

Posted at Jun 17 2010 09:38 AM | Updated as of Jun 17 2010 07:04 PM

WASHINGTON D.C. - The Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) challenged Wednesday (Thursday in Manila) the incoming administration of President-elect Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III to carry out his promise to curb corruption in the country.

The MCC Board, headed by State Secretary Hillary Clinton, met to discuss the various pending proposals for millions of dollars worth of poverty-fighting grants, including $434 million for the Philippines.

"The Board reiterated its desire for a commitment by the new administration to the ideals and principles of MCC, including fighting corruption, and to the compact's objectives and implementation," they said in a statement.

The Philippines was supossed to receive the grant earlier this year until the MCC decided to defer the Compact proposal because the Arroyo administration continued to flunk the all-critical corruption test.

The MCC Board decided in March to wait for the winner of the national elections last May before moving forward with the Philippine proposal.

As a candidate, Aquino ran behind a platform of fighting graft, blaming the country's rampant poverty on widespread government corruption - a sentiment that appears to resonate loudly in the Obama administration, if its latest declarations serve as barometer.

The Philippines proposed to invest the MCC grant in community-based rural development programs focusing on poor areas that is expected to benefit 5 million Filipinos.

The programs include a 220-kilometer road building and rehabilitation project cutting across the most depressed barangays of Eastern Visayas; and the computerization of the Bureau of Internal Revenue that is aimed at improving collections while reducing opportunities for grant and corruption.

The US State Department had earlier released the 2010 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report which covered over 170 countries, including the Philippines, which it placed in a critical watch list for the 2nd straight year.

But in a clear signal to President-elect Aquino, the MCC said it will take up the Philippine proposal this year (the Board meets quarterly) together with Jordan and Malawi, and ahead of Indonesia, Zambia and Cape Verde, whose applications for grants would be taken up in 2011.

The TIP has identified corruption and an inefficient court system for the failure of government to prosecute and punish labor and sex traffickers in the Philippines.

In the meeting, Secretary Clinton and the rest of the members of the MCC Board were briefed on ongoing discussions with Philippine officials.