, February 23, 2005
(STAR) By Marichu Villanueva  -  President Arroyo exhorted Filipinos to fight corruption "without fear" as she opened yesterday the four-day annual celebration commemorating the 1986 people power revolt.

Speaking to a crowd of about 20,000 at the People Power Monument in Quezon City, Mrs. Arroyo renewed her vow to stamp out corruption, which analysts say is the biggest stumbling block in the government’s efforts to revitalize the struggling economy.

"On this occasion, let us fight more vigorously, use our unity, take the lead in fighting and defeating corruption," she said, adding that she will use all the powers at her disposal to root out corrupt government officials and personnel.

"We have to crush the culture of corruption that is preventing our economic advance, so we can continue generating jobs and so that the nation will continue to progress."

Mrs. Arroyo also renewed her commitment to hale illegal loggers and tax evaders to court. Her administration is currently waging a simultaneous drive against illegal logging and tax evasion.

Mrs. Arroyo said it was massive corruption that led to the ouster of Ferdinand Marcos, who ruled the country with an iron fist from 1972 until his ouster in 1986.

Marcos’ downfall began with the 1983 assassination of opposition leader Benigno Aquino Jr., which galvanized the political opposition.

Aquino’s widow, Corazon, ran against Marcos in the 1986 presidential election, which Marcos rigged.

The massive poll fraud triggered a mutiny, led by then army general Fidel Ramos and Marcos’ estranged defense minister, Juan Ponce Enrile.

Exhorted by then Manila archbishop Jaime Cardinal Sin, hundreds of thousands of Filipinos surrounded Camp Crame and Camp Aguinaldo to protect the mutineers from troops loyal to Marcos.

Marcos and his family fled Malacañang just hours ahead of an angry mob that stormed the palace. Marcos died in exile in Hawaii in 1989.

Government investigators believe the late strongman and his wife Imelda allegedly stole up to $10 billion during their 20-year rule.

Nearly 10,000 Filipinos who suffered human rights abuses during the martial law era are currently seeking indemnity from the Marcos estate.

At yesterday’s rally, Mrs. Arroyo noted that she herself was catapulted to the presidency by a similar popular uprising in 2001 that ousted former President Joseph Estrada, now on trial for plunder.

Estrada is accused of running an illegal gambling protection racket and misusing state funds intended for tobacco farmers during his aborted 31-month presidency.

He denies the charges and claims his ouster was illegal.

Various international agencies have expressed concern about massive corruption in the Philippines, which analysts say has discouraged foreign investment.

The government is losing an estimated P200 billion to corruption every year, according to the Office of the Ombudsman.

In 2003, the Arroyo administration launched an anti-corruption campaign that included "lifestyle checks" on government officials.

Independent estimates suggest at least a fifth of the government budget is lost through graft.

One local watchdog group, Procurement Watch Inc., estimated that the Philippines loses P21 billion a year to corruption in the procurement of government goods and services alone.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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