Philippines' Aquino rallies public in graft fight

Philippine President Benigno Aquino (L) talks to students at a college auditorium in Manila, while Vice President Jejomar Binay (2nd-R) listens. Aquino said on February 16, people must take a stand against the impeached Supreme Court chief justice, warning an acquittal would derail the fight against corruption

Philippine President Benigno Aquino on Thursday urged the public to rally behind his campaign to oust the nation's top judge, warning the fight against widespread corruption hinged on the result. Invoking the famous "people power" revolution that installed his late mother to the presidency in 1986, Aquino said ordinary Filipinos had the power to ensure Supreme Court chief justice Renato Corona was removed from office. Corona is on trial in the Senate, accused of violating the constitution to protect graft-tainted former president Gloria Arroyo from prosecution, and also for allegedly amassing a personal fortune above the limits of his salary. "We should not allow ourselves to become victims of injustice. We must take a stand now," Aquino told a town-hall-style meeting with students at a Catholic college in Manila. He did not say specifically how the masses could take a stand. But he recalled how supporters of his late mother, Corazon Aquino, forced then dictator Ferdinand Marcos into exile by protesting peacefully, waging a "civil disobedience campaign" and boycotting firms linked to the strongman. Aquino said he trusted the impeachment process, but he wanted the public to understand that Corona and his backers were using a wide range of tactics in an effort to derail the case. Aquino said that if the Senate acquitted Corona, it would virtually destroy his efforts to rid the country of corruption. "Extremely difficult, if not impossible," he replied to a question from a law student about such a prospect. Aquino won a landslide election victory in 2010 on a platform to end corruption which has plagued the Philippines for decades and he says worsened dramatically during the decade that Arroyo led the country before him. Arroyo was arrested in November on charges of rigging the 2007 senatorial vote and is now awaiting trial in a military hospital where she is being treated for what she says is a rare spinal illness. Aquino then marshalled his allies in the lower house of parliament to impeach Corona, labelling him a "rogue magistrate" loyal to Arroyo. Under Philippine law, the Senate holds a trial to validate the lower house's impeachment charge. Aquino insisted Thursday that Corona had lied about asset declarations required of public officials, which he said should be grounds for him being sacked by the Senate. "According to just three (bank) accounts presented at the impeachment, Mr Corona had hidden 31.5 million pesos (about $730,000)," he said.