TOKYO—President Benigno Aquino III on Sunday gave himself a deadline to file more cases against officials involved in alleged irregularities under the previous administration, and start putting some of them behind bars by early next year.
Appearing haggard in his second foreign trip in a week, the President was visibly energized at the prospect of prosecuting what he called “wang-wang” (abusive) officials, who had gotten away under past regimes.
“We will make sure we have strong evidence so criminals could not escape,” he said in Filipino in a well-applauded speech at a gathering of the Filipino community at Japan Education Center here.
“We will start filing the cases before the end of this year and with a little cooperation from the judiciary, maybe we can put some of these people in jail next year. We will hold them responsible so no one else will follow their example.”
Mr. Aquino cited the alleged irregularity in Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. where officials reportedly spent P1 billion for coffee in various casinos under its control.
He also mentioned the 2009 sale to the Philippine National Police of secondhand helicopters, which were previously owned allegedly by then First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo.
To the estimated 250,000 Filipinos working in Japan, the President offered hope of a transformed Philippines by the end of his term.
He promised to work on this so that in the years to come, leaving the Philippines would be merely a “choice”—not a necessity—for Filipino workers.
Mr. Aquino said he was “inspired” by the story of “70 to 80” Filipino engineers designing refineries in the Middle East for Japan Gas Corp., which he described as “the SGV of engineering.”
The President defended his decision to appoint former classmates, relatives, and close friends—collectively ridiculed as “Kaibigan-Kaklase-Kabarilan” (KKK)—to various government positions.
He cited the case of his “family friend,” Philippine Ambassador to Japan Manuel Lopez, who, he said, worked hard in relief operations during the March 11 earthquake and tsunami before Lopez could formally assume his post.
“Nobody could say that you were abandoned by your embassy here,” he said.
The President also sought to put a positive spin on the Philippines’ measly 3.4-percent economic growth in the second quarter, apparently because of his increasingly cautious approach to public spending.
In nine months, the Department of Public Works and Highways, for instance, was able to spend only P16 billion out of P90 billion in available funds.
“You raised this money for them but they render it useless by not spending it on projects. Because of this practice, spending is so low, jobs aren’t being created, and the economy is contracting,” Senator Edgardo Angara had told Mr. Aquino’s economic managers in a recent budget hearing.
The President admitted that having a huge budget surplus—P9 billion as of last month—was not necessarily good.
He said the money could have been spent on infrastructure and health services.