Agusan del Norte gov arrested in landmark case

Agence France-Presse

Posted at Jun 23 2011 04:57 PM | Updated as of Jun 24 2011 12:57 AM

MANILA, Philippines - An influential governor was arrested on corruption charges on Thursday, officials said, in what one legal analyst said could be a test case for President Benigno Aquino III's war on graft.

Governor Erlpe John Amante and 2 other defendants posted bail hours later but face up to 15 years in jail if found guilty on charges of allowing a firm mine and export nickel ore beyond its permitted amount, they said.

Amante and 2 other local officials allegedly committed the crime in 2006-2007 in the southern province of Agusan del Norte -- a powerbase for his family, said Rawnsle Lopez of the special anti-graft prosecutor's office.

"We consider this to be a high-profile case because a governor is a chief executive of a province," Lopez, spokeswoman for the government Ombudsman told AFP.

The three defendants paid P90,000 for bail, Estella Rosete, court clerk of a special anti-graft tribunal handling the case, told AFP.

The public will be keenly watching the case to see if Aquino's promise to crack down on corruption after his landslide election win last year will hold true, said lawyer Romel Bagares.

"It will be a test case. The president should show strong resolve to prosecute people," said Bagares, executive director of Manila-based Center for International Law.

"You are seeing an incumbent official being hauled to court, a governor (of) a vote-rich region. That is definitely a big fish in the scheme of things," Bagares told AFP.

Amante is from a powerful political clan allied to Aquino's predecessor and rival, former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Aquino vowed to wage a war on corruption when he was elected president in May 2010, particularly against Arroyo and her allies who he accused of facilitating massive corruption.

But in his first months in office, Aquino complained that his efforts were being blocked by Arroyo allies entrenched in key state posts including the Ombudsman and courts.

Aquino successfully forced an Arroyo ally out of the office of the Ombudsman last month, paving the way for the pursuit of officials like Amante, said Bagares.