Former Philippine President Benigno Aquino has been indicted over his decision to reallocate $1.67bn in government funds to a programme later declared by the country’s top court as unconstitutional.
Aquino is liable for the “unlawful issuance” of the funds for projects not approved by the Philippine Congress, the special prosecutors responsible for investigating government corruption said on Wednesday.
The prosecutors said Aquino “knowingly gave his approval” to his budget secretary to withdraw the said government funds, “contrary to law”.
The amount released was P72bn, which at that time was equivalent to about $1.67bn.
The decision is a reversal of an earlier order clearing Aquino of the charge, which was challenged by a group of opposition legislators and activities.
While Aquino is not accused of enriching himself using the funds, critics and political observers said he directed the government money to favoured Congress members and senators.
At the time the funds were released, Aquino was trying to gather support from legislators to impeach the Supreme Court chief justice, who was later found guilty by the Senate for failure to properly declare his assets and liabilities.
Aquino had insisted that the release of the funds was well-documented and allowed by law. But the Supreme Court declared in a 2014 decision that it was unconstitutional.
Carlos Zarate, a member of Congress and petitioner, said his party welcomes the decision.
He said Aquino and his budget secretary should not only be indicted for “usurpation of legislative power” but also for “technical malversation and graft charges as both author and architect of the multibillion presidential pork barrel”.
In a statement published on ABS-CBN News Channel, Aquino’s spokesman Abigail Valte said the former leader has yet to receive a copy of the decision.
“We’re quite curious to study how the Office arrived at a reversal of its previous decision finding no liability on the part of former President Aquino.”
No trial date has been set for the case against Aquino. If convicted of the case, the former president could face the penalty of “temporary special disqualification” and imprisonment between six months and one day to six years.
In July 2017, Aquino was also indicted of usurpation of authority for ordering a 2015 raid on a Muslim armed leader in the southern Philippines, which resulted in the death of 44 elite police officers.
Aquino, who served as president from 2010 to 2016, has been credited with restoring political and economic stability in the Philippines and for signing a peace deal to try to end a decades-long Muslim separatist rebellion in Mindanao.