MANILA, Philippines - Palace officials are calling on various groups that have threatened to file graft and corruption complaints against President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to follow due process.
Executive Secretary Leandro Mendoza said on Friday they already expect the filing of these cases, and that they are ready "to address this challenge."
Under a democracy, Mendoza said it was the right of citizens to file complaints even against the President.
Deputy presidential spokesperson Charito Planas said these complaints should be backed by strong evidence.
Mrs. Arroyo steps down from the presidency noon of June 30, when she will also lose her immunity from suit.
She is expected to easily defeat the filing of corruption complaints since the Ombudsman is a close ally and all of the members of the Supreme Court are her appointees.
New commission on reforms
President-elect Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III said Thursday he asked Vice-President Jejomar Binay to lead a new government office that will institute judicial reform and investigate corruption scandals linked to Mrs. Arroyo.
Aquino said Binay's experience as a human rights lawyer under the Marcos regime makes him a perfect fit for the new government body that he will form after June 30.
"Well, he is a lawyer and there are cases that we need to tackle and investigations to pursue that will bring closure...on all of the issues that are pending. He will be the one who will lead that," he told reporters at the Manila Hotel.
"I don't want to sound like a broken record but our conviction rate right now is very low, 18%. No big fish. The bigger the fish, the harder it is to even investigate. O, [hopefully] he [Binay] comes in and he manages to prove and send to jail those proven guilty," he added.
Binay was a member of the Movement of Attorneys for Brotherhood, Integrity and Nationalism Inc. (MABINI), a group of lawyers who helped human rights victims during the Marcos administration.
Binay turns down post
However, on Friday, Binay reiterated that he will not accept any Cabinet post for now since it would only cause problems for the president-elect. He added that he wanted to work full-time as vice-president.
"Kahit isandaang beses pa, sasabihin ko sa inyo, gusto ko na lang manungkulan. Huwag na natin pahirapan ang pangulo sa paghahanap ng pwesto ko," he said.
He also clarified that his refusal to handle the commission that would investigate Arroyo does not mean that he is afraid of the outgoing president. He said the position was one of 4 offered to him by President-elect Aquino, all of which he refused.
Jail corrupt officials
Meanwhile, a leading campaigner urged the Philippines to jail corrupt officials and seize their assets to show it is serious about taking on the endemic corruption that has hobbled its development and investment,
Aquino should set up an independent anti-corruption body, and public attitudes to those convicted of crimes had to change, Transparency International's co-founder Michael Hershman told a Makati Business Club forum on Friday.
"There is a need to go after those who have robbed and stolen from this country," the former soldier said, pointing to studies showing 20% of the government's budget is lost to corruption.
"They must be held accountable, and this time it has to be done for real. They must go to jail if found guilty of corruption and their assets must be seized and returned to the public treasury."
Transparency and Accountability Network (TAN), a local non-government organization, had also urged Aquino to establish an independent commission that will pursue corruption cases.
RP ranks 139th in index
The Philippines is ranked 139th out of 180 countries on Transparency International's corruption perception index, 28 places behind Indonesia and the lowest of the major Southeast Asian nations.
Concerns about endemic corruption and weak institutions have seen foreign investment in the Philippines lag its neighbours.
Aquino's clean image and the trust Filipinos have in his family's name was a factor in his big win in the May election, with the public looking for change after two administrations beset by allegations of corruption. - with reports from Willard Cheng, ABS-CBN News; Manny Mogato, Reuters