US congressmen ask Obama to raise graft issue to Aquino

MANILA, Philippines—A group of influential American congressmen has asked US President Barack Obama to bring to the attention of President Aquino allegations of continuing corruption under his administration in spite of the touted reforms the Philippine leader had initiated.

In a letter dated Sept. 30, before Obama canceled his trip to the Philippines due to the federal government shutdown, the US lawmakers particularly expressed concern over allegations of land grabbing.

“Corruption in the Philippines has long hampered economic growth.  President Aquino’s focus on curbing corruption and bolstering the rule of law at the federal level marks a significant shift for the Philippines,” said the letter of the lawmakers led by California Rep. Edward Royce, chair of the US House committee on foreign relations.

“We welcome this change; however, corruption at the local level remains a serious problem. That is why your intervention is so important,” they said in their letter to Obama.

The ranking Democrat in the committee, New York Rep. Eliot Engel, also signed the letter, as did 99 other members of the US House of Representatives.

Since Obama canceled the trip, US Secretary of State John Kerry will be coming to the country in his stead.

The US congressmen told Obama about the situation in the Philippines, “where powerful developers force landowners to surrender their rightfully owned property by colluding with government officials.”

“The vacated land is then sold at prices significantly below market value. In many cases, landowners do to receive any compensation,” they said.

The lawmakers said land-grabbing wasn’t an isolated problem affecting only the Philippines, saying this was also an issue in China and Cambodia.

“Land-grabbing occurs because governments fail to enforce the rule of law and lack the political will to tackle this deeply rooted form of corruption,” the congressmen said.

The United States has a lot of stake in the outcome of the Philippines’ progress in enforcing the law and protecting property rights, they said.

“Through the Millennium Challenge Corp., the American taxpayer is providing $434 million to the Philippines to improve the livelihood of all Filipinos,” the congressmen said.

“Furthermore, the US is providing an additional $30 million in foreign military financing to strengthen security. Given these substantial financial commitments, the Philippines must do more to address corruption and strengthen the rule of law,” they added.

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