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Anti-Aquino bishop: Ready for prison if guilty

MANILA, Philippines – One of the most outspoken anti-Aquino bishops challenged the government to prove that his group, the National Transformation Council (NTC), is planning an “unconstitutional and illegal power grab” as the Justice Department claimed.

“I myself am willing to go to prison if I am guilty of any crime,” Lipa Archbishop Ramon Arguelles told Rappler on Monday evening, February 23.

Arguelles made this statement after Justice Secretary Leila de Lima slammed the NTC for allegedly urging “the installation of a civilian-military junta.” She said the group is also proposing and conspiring “to commit the crime of coup d' etat.”

De Lima on Sunday, February 22, said the government will apply the “full force of the law” against President Benigno Aquino III's critics who push for an “unconstitutional and illegal power grab.”

The government links the NTC to former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. The group includes Norberto Gonzales, once Arroyo's defense secretary and national security adviser.

The Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines, for its part, has rejected extra-constitutional measures as Arguelles and other bishops push for a “new government.” (READ: Bishops split on 'moral basis' for Aquino to quit)

Arguelles, however, clarified that the NTC is “against a military coup.”

“But of course we want Mr Aquino and the whole government to step down, and we are willing to help create a new government that will be freed of corruption and all those evil things that are happening, that are so deeply embedded in our system,” the archbishop said.

'Focus on PDAF, DAP offenders'

He added that “there are others who should be prosecuted according to the Supreme Court.”

The archbishop said these individuals include those who “have taken advantage” of the government's discretionary funds.

He referred to the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) and the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP).

The Supreme Court (SC) in November 2013 junked PDAF as unconstitutional. The Ombudsman filed charges against 3 opposition senators, among others, for alleged misuse of their PDAF.

In July 2014, the SC also declared 3 schemes under DAP as unconstitutional. Aquino faced some of the biggest protests against him because of DAP. 

Arguelles said De Lima “should pay attention” to those who abuse their PDAF and DAP, instead of those in the NTC, “because these are the people who are destroying our country.”

Arguelles and his group, the NTC, stepped up in calling on Aquino to resign as a bloodbath in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, thrust the President in his worst political crisis.

The police operation in Mamasapano killed 44 members of the Philippine National Police Special Action Force, 18 Muslim rebels, and at least 3 civilians. It also stalled the Bangsamoro Basic Law, a landmark in the peace process in Mindanao, the Philippines' poorest island group that has endured a 4-decade old Muslim secessionist movement. – Rappler.com

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He obtained his MA Journalism degree from Ateneo and later finished MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.

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