KAWIT, Philippines (AP) — President Benigno Aquino III said Sunday his government has stopped several graft-tainted projects and cut bureaucratic perks, allowing it to raise extra money to feed the poor, equip troops and improve the country's image among investors.
But Aquino acknowledged in an Independence Day speech that formidable problems continue to plague the impoverished Southeast Asian nation, including shortages of jobs, schools, doctors and hospitals and a dependence on imported rice despite its vast farmlands.
More than a century after rising up against Spanish colonizers, Filipinos still have not been liberated from social ills like poverty because they have failed to eradicate corruption, Aquino said in Kawit town in Cavite province south of Manila where revolutionaries declared independence from Spain 113 years ago.
"If we want to liberate the country, we need to free the government and ourselves from greed," Aquino said on the balcony of a historic, flag-draped mansion.
Aquino said without elaborating that his administration had stopped graft-tainted projects in several government agencies, including the Department of Public Works and Highways and the Laguna Lake Development Authority. Officials have looked into alleged irregularities in a major dredging project at the Laguna Lake agency.
Presidential spokeswoman Abigail Valte said close to $23 million (1 billion pesos) worth of contracts were halted at the public works and highways department alone because they were not properly bidded out, lacked required documents or had other irregularities.
Slashing high salaries and perks of executives in government-owned corporations increased their revenues to $686 million (29.5 billion pesos), some of which was used to build 20,000 houses for soldiers and police and hire 10,000 additional nurses for rural clinics, Budget Secretary Florencio Abad said.
Aquino said the corporations have long been milked by executives appointed by officials paying off political debts.
More than 100 left-wing laborers and activists, however, accused Aquino of being a U.S. puppet and demanded higher wages. They attempted to march to the U.S. Embassy in Manila, carrying an effigy of Aquino hanging on strings held by an image of Uncle Sam on a U.S. aircraft carrier, but were blocked by riot police.
Aquino suggested that many of the anomalies took place during the administration of his predecessor, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, without naming her.
Aquino also cited a military corruption scandal linked to three former chiefs of staff, including Arroyo's former defense chief, Angelo Reyes, who has denied any wrongdoing. He committed suicide in February amid a Senate corruption investigation.
"The generals were gifted with truckloads of money while those who expose their bodies to bullets suffer in boots ridden with holes," Aquino said.
Long entrenched in Philippine society, corruption is an especially explosive issue in the inadequately equipped and underfunded military and has sparked several rebellions by disgruntled troops in the past 25 years.
Aquino is the son of democracy icons revered for battling dictator Ferdinand Marcos, who was toppled in a 1986 "People Power" revolt. He won a landslide election victory last year largely due to his name and a promise to fight graft and poverty, which afflicts a third of the country's 94 million people.
Associated Press writer Jim Gomez in Manila contributed to this report.