MANILA,  November 8, 2004
By Marvin Sy - President Arroyo and other world leaders will tackle the problem of corruption for the first time during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Santiago, Chile from Nov. 20 to 21.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo said the apec leaders will discuss corruption issues in relation to recommendations prepared by the region’s anti-corruption experts during a brief meeting in the Chilean capital last month.

"The experts outlined specific domestic measures to combat corruption and promote transparency in APEC member-economies," Romulo said.

As a founding member of APEC, the Philippines supports the regional body’s anti-corruption drive, Romulo said.

He said the Arroyo administration has given the battle against corruption top priority in its reform agenda over the next six years.

Besides the issue of corruption, the APEC summit will discuss a proposal of the APEC Business Advisory Group to turn the Asia-Pacific region into a free trade zone.

"The Philippines supports the proposal for a feasibility study to be conducted to determine the impact such a free trade area would have on a number of economies," Romulo said.

He said a decision "will be taken up after the results of the feasibility study," which will be conducted by an independent group.

Also on Mrs. Arroyo’s agenda is a possible meeting with United States President George W. Bush, during which the two leaders may discuss security issues and the hostage situation in Iraq, where another Filipino worker, Robert Tarongoy, is being held by Iraqi militants, and Afghanistan, where Filipino and United Nations volunteer Angelito Nayan is being held by Afghan militants.

The unprecedented focus on corruption issues during the APEC summit comes at a time when the Arroyo administration is facing a number of corruption-related problems — specifically the charges filed against suspended Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) comptroller Maj. Gen. Carlos Garcia.

Garcia is under investigation for amassing millions of dollars in unexplained wealth during his tenure as AFP comptroller.

Besides the Garcia case, Ombudsman Simeon Marcelo admitted that the government is losing as much as P200 billion a year because of corruption.

House appropriations committee chairman and Camarines Sur Rep. Rolando Andaya Jr. said the other day that the estimated loss of revenue due to corruption was taken from a briefing paper prepared by Marcelo as part of his justification for an increase in the budgetary allocation for the Office of the Ombudsman for fiscal year 2005.

The Office of the Ombudsman is seeking a P55-million increase in its budget to P535 million for 2005 from P480 million this year.

Marcelo said the increase in the Ombudsman’s budget will be used to finance the hiring of more lawyers and investigators for the improvement of his office’s prosecution of graft and corruption cases.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved