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June 28, 2017

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3 Philippine senators charged with plunder

MANILA--Philippine government prosecutors filed corruption charges Friday against three senators who allegedly received hundreds of millions of pesos (millions of dollars) in kickbacks from funds allocated for projects for the poor.

Former Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, former Senate Protempore Jinggoy Estrada and Sen. Ramon Revilla Jr. were charged with plunder, which carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment and is non-bailable.

Also charged were about half a dozen other people, including businesswoman Janet Napoles, who allegedly created dummy aid organizations used as fronts to receive government funds intended for agriculture and livelihood projects and from where the kickbacks were obtained.

The three senators have denied involvement in the scam, which triggered public outraged and a massive anti-corruption rally last year. Another rally has been scheduled for next week.

A lawyer for Revilla, who is a former action movie actor, said he would ask the anti-graft court to first review the evidence and not to immediately issue arrest warrants.

Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales asked the Supreme Court to create at least two special divisions of the anti-graft court for the trials because of the "far-reaching consequences" of the cases. She said additional graft charges would be filed next week.

The three senators are among the most senior state officials charged since President Benigno Aquino III took office in 2010 after winning election on an anti-corruption and anti-poverty platform.

Aquino's predecessor, Gloria Arroyo, is in hospital detention on criminal charges and her appointee as Supreme Court chief justice, Renato Corona, was impeached after he was found allegedly hiding much of his assets.

Abigail Valte, a presidential spokeswoman, said the filing of the charges against the senators was "a step forward in the determination of the truth, which will be the basis for exacting accountability under our justice system."

The government ombudsman, who prosecutes state officials and employees accused of wrongdoing, filed the charges a year after the scam involving the Philippine Development Assistance Fund was exposed.

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