Filipinos used to healthy servings of corruption allegations against their highest leaders have another one on their plate.
This time, the accusations involve Vice President Jejomar Binay, widely seen as the frontrunner in the 2016 presidential election.
Binay is being investigated by a senate committee, the justice department and the Ombudsman over claims he misused his power as mayor of Manila’s main business district to enrich himself.
The investigation has dominated newscasts and headlines for weeks.
Binay denies any wrongdoing and has not been charged with any offense.
He told the Wall Street Journal that the Senate inquiry into his affairs was a political witch hunt designed “to erode my standing as a prospective presidential candidate,” and was based on “mere allegations, insinuations and guesswork”.
Binay insists he is “committed to go down to the wire for the presidency”.
Meanwhile, voters like Manila taxi driver Arsenio Gomez shrug off the allegations, saying they will support Binay for president regardless of the outcome of the investigation.
“They’re all corrupt,” Gomez said of Filipino politicians.
Gomez said he is more interested in Binay’s record in the city of Makati, which he is widely credited with transforming into the country’s most dynamic business hub, now home to skyscrapers, corporate headquarters and luxury housing developments, during more than two decades in City Hall.
The accusations against Binay come as President Benigno Aquino III has made cleaning up Philippine politics one of his legacy goals.
Tackling graft dovetails with another important priority — attracting more foreign investment to help sustain economic growth of 6-7 percent.
But Aquino has struggled to turn around the public’s perception of politicians despite efforts at cracking down on corruption.
In addition to the Binay allegations, voters for more than a year have watched high-level members of the Senate defend themselves against allegations they were part of a scam that cost taxpayers around US$225 million.
Aquino’s predecessor, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, is also under hospital arrest on corruption, which she denies.
“This is the conclusion of many people – that Aquino barely dented it,” Ramon Casiple, executive director of the Manila-based Institute for Political and Electoral Reform, said of the administration’s war on graft.
Binay rose to prominence during the 1983-86 People Power Revolution that overthrew then President Ferdinand Marcos and replaced him with Corazon Aquino, mother of the current president.
A lawyer known for representing victims of the Marcos regime – for which he was jailed for several months – Binay was among the elder Aquino’s most loyal protectors during the often-bloody transition.
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