MANILA, Philippines—A Philippine senator who was one of the most powerful men under the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos on Friday pleaded not guilty to 15 counts of graft for alleged kickbacks from state anti-poverty funds.
The ailing 90-year-old former Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile told the anti-graft court during arraignment he did not commit any crime.
Government prosecutors accused Enrile of engaging in a conspiracy involving his former chief of staff, Jessica Lucila Reyes, and more than 40 other people to divert about 345 million pesos ($7.9 million) in development funds to non-existent projects.
The charges against Enrile and two other senators allegedly involved have been hailed as among the strongest indications that President Benigno Aquino III is determined to stamp out the corruption that hobbles this Southeast Asian nation’s economic growth.
Enrile, who uses a hearing aid, listened intently while seated beside Reyes as the charges were read out in front of the three-member panel of the Sandiganbayan court. He rose slowly after each of the 15 counts to enter his plea.
“Your honours, I am not guilty. I have not committed any crime,” he said after the first charge was read to him.
Reyes, who was also charged with graft, refused to enter a plea and the court entered a not guilty plea for her. The businesswoman who allegedly crafted the scam, Janet Lim Napoles, also pleaded not guilty Friday.
Enrile and the others were charged with causing “undue injury to the government” for diverting money from his Priority Development Assistance Fund from 2007 to 2010 to private aid groups that didn’t actually exist.
Enrile has been separately charged with plunder for receiving kickbacks totalling more than 172 million pesos ($3.9 million). He is currently detained in a police hospital without bail. He did not enter a plea when arraigned on the plunder charge in July and the court entered a not guilty plea for him.
The two other senators also detained on plunder and graft charges have denied any involvement in the scam.
Enrile, a wealthy lawyer and former defence minister, was the martial law administrator during Marcos’ 14-year one-man rule until he broke away from the dictator and helped lead the 1986 “people power” revolt.
In the tumultuous period following the dictatorship, Enrile was ousted from the Cabinet and twice detained for his links to officers involved in coup attempts and mutinies against then-President Corazon Aquino, Aquino’s late mother.