MANILA, Philippines (AP) — A Philippine senator and dictatorship-era defense chief surrendered Friday to face a charge of large-scale corruption, the most prominent of three top politicians snared in the government’s crackdown on graft in recent weeks.
Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile was indicted and ordered arrested by an anti-graft court for allegedly receiving huge kickbacks from a scam that diverted millions of dollars from anti-poverty and development funds allotted to lawmakers.
His former chief aide in the Senate and co-accused, Jessica Lucila Reyes, also surrendered.
Enrile, 90, was the defense minister when late strongman Ferdinand Marcos placed the country under martial rule in 1972, the start of a 14-year dictatorship characterized by widespread human rights violations and corruption.
Enrile broke off from Marcos in 1986 and helped lead a “people power” revolt that ousted the dictator, his family and allies. In the tumultuous post-dictatorship era, he was detained twice after being linked to several military rebellions, including mutinies against President Corazon Aquino, late mother of the current president.
But he continued to serve in government and later was elected to the Senate, where he once served as president.
The arrests of Enrile and two other senators are a milestone in this Southeast Asian nation’s long battle with corruption, which President Benigno Aquino III has blamed for causing the wrenching poverty that afflicts a fourth of the population and which has forced millions to leave the country in search of menial jobs and better opportunities abroad.
A prominent lawyer himself, Enrile has denied the accusation that he pocketed 172 million pesos ($3.94 million) in kickbacks and enlisted top-notch lawyers to defend him.
“He kissed all his children and grandchildren goodbye. There were tears of course. He said, ‘Don’t worry I will be back,'” said Enrique dela Cruz, one of Enrile’s lawyers.
While he had been detained but never convicted in the past for his alleged role in attempts to overthrow the government, Enrile wants to clear his name in the case of economic plunder, according to de la Cruz.
After arriving at the national police headquarters in a convoy of SUVs, police said Enrile was booked and underwent medical tests that showed high blood pressure. Officials placed him temporarily under hospital arrest.
Aquino and other officials have hinted that Enrile may be treated with leniency because of his age and frail health.
In a sign of his reversal of fortune, police said Enrile’s camp asked that his mug shots not be shown to the public. Dela Cruz, Enrile’s lawyer, confirmed they made the request so as not to humiliate the senator.
Two other senators — Ramon Revilla Jr, a movie and TV celebrity, and Jinggoy Estrada, son of a deposed president — have surrendered earlier and have been detained in a special police cell, where the detainees have complained of the heat, cockroaches and rats.
While Aquino has led the anti-corruption crackdown, opponents have accused him of singling out political adversaries for prosecution and going slow on known allies, who have been linked to financial irregularities. The president has denied the accusation, saying any official would be prosecuted if there was evidence of wrongdoing.
Associated Press writer Jim Gomez contributed to this report.
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