Philippine police chief under fire for suspicious wealth

MANILA (AFP) - The Philippines' police chief faced calls Wednesday to resign after admitting he accepted gifts and favours worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, but he insisted they were not bribes.

Police Director-General Alan Purisima was also under intense scrutiny for assets seemingly far beyond his modest salary of 107,000 pesos (S$3,036) a month, including four houses, a condominium and a luxury four-wheel drive.

"This is part of the culture of corruption throughout our national institutions," Dante Jimenez, head of Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption, a citizen's graft watchdog group, told AFP.

Mr Jimenez's organisation is one of two groups to have formally called on the country's ombudsman to file bribery and corruption charges against Purisima.

In a Senate hearing on Tuesday, Purisima disclosed assets worth about US$400,000, including the houses, five vehicles, a trucking business and a chicken farm.

Purisima said he also accepted an offer last year from a car dealer of a discount worth about US$60,000 when he bought a luxury sport utility vehicle.

And he confirmed secret businessmen built for free an official residence worth 11 million pesos, dubbed the "White House", inside the police headquarters, to serve as his official residence.

However Purisima insisted he had not done anything wrong, and the allegations of corruption were motivated by those who would be affected by his own anti-graft campaign. "In our efforts to fix the system, there are those who lost their rackets, money and livelihood. Naturally, they would want to destroy us," Purisima said.

President Benigno Aquino, who has waged a high-profile fight against corruption that plagues all levels of Philippine society, appointed Purisima as the nation's police chief in 2012. Purisima has since been Mr Aquino's pointman in reforming the 150,000-member police force.

Mr Aquino has publicly backed Purisima in recent weeks and the president's spokesman again offered support following Tuesday's Senate hearing.

Asked if Purisima was still fit to lead the police force given the controversy, presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda told reporters: "Yes I believe so".

However Teresita See, head of the local crime watchdog Movement for the Restoration of Peace and Democracy, said Purisima's accepting of such lucrative offers meant his position was untenable.

"The danger there is conflict of interest. People can capitalise on that and ask for favours, maybe not now but in the future," she told AFP.

On social media, ordinary Filipinos were more emphatic.

"How can we feel safe in this country if the head of the PNP (Philippine National Police) is an incompetent, corrupt man?" Twitter user @katdebustos wrote.