Abad asked about pork scam at WEF session

MANILA, Philippines – During a discussion on transparency at the World Economic Forum on East Asia on Thursday, May 22, Budget Secretary Florencio "Butch" Abad was put on the spot by a reporter from the Wall Street Journal who asked: How can you say the Philippines has made progress on corruption amid the pork barrel scam scandal?

Abad, who was a panelist during the forum, was asked the question after he talked about the Aquino administration's good governance program and anti-corruption initiatives.

"Even my name has been dragged into the issue," Abad replied. 

Watch this report below.

The Cabinet secretary, who has been implicated by alleged pork barrel scam mastermind Janet Lim-Napoles in the biggest corruption scandal in the country in recent years, said the fact that the exposé on the scam occurred during the administration of President Benigno Aquino III shows transparency.

"[The President] has allowed a system that can talk about it and that prosecutes the guilty," he said.

"Creating an environment and lowering tolerance for it is something this administration has made happen."

Abad said the Aquino administration is determined to "go where the evidence leads" regardless of the political alliances of those involved. The challenge, he said, lies in "how fast the judicial process could bring to justice those involved."

He said he does not think there is any doubt among Filipinos that Aquino will do otherwise.

Exposed last year, the pork barrel scam, which involved the misuse of lawmakers' funds that were meant for development projects, initially implicated at least 3 opposition senators who now face plunder complaints before the Ombudsman.

But the scandal took a strange turn recently when Napoles, who is now detained, sought a meeting with Justice Secretary Leila de Lima to execute a tell-all affidavit. Her so-called "Napolist" of lawmakers she had transacted with includes Abad and two other Cabinet members under the current Aquino administration.

The other two who have been linked to the scam are Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala, and Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) head Joel Villanueva.

The WEF on East Asia is being hosted by the Philippines for the first time, and the Aquino government said the event is proof that the country has come a long way from its image as the sick man of Asia. (READ: Stories related to the ongoing WEF on East Asia here)

Detained, convicted, removed

Earlier in the day, Abad cited the success of the administration in prosecuting the guilty.

"This government has put in detention a former president, convicted a chief justice, and removed from office an ombudsman: I think that sends a strong message to the people," he said.

Moderator Yang Yanqing, Deputy Editor-in-Chief and Anchor of China Business News, acknowledged the difficult question and thanked Abad for answering adequately. - Rappler.com