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Estrada, Arroyo to the hearings?

SOME PERSPECTIVE is needed over the congressional hearings on military corruption.

A news item by reporter Marichu Villanueva in a daily published on Oct. 29, 2004, or more than six years ago, said:

“The new military chief got his marching orders yesterday from his commander in chief: Stamp out corruption that is destroying the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). President Arroyo, swearing in Lt. Gen. Efren Abu as her seventh military chief, also ordered him to speed up the court martial of Army Maj. Gen. Carlos Garcia, who was sacked as AFP comptroller last April for alleged unexplained wealth.

“‘Now the weight of promulgating military justice bears heavily on the shoulders of the new chief of staff. He will oversee the court martial of Garcia as well as the investigation of other officers similarly suspected of graft,’ President Arroyo said. The President stressed that like all Filipinos, she demands ‘the truth about corruption, whether in the military or outside the military. But like General Abaya so emotionally appealed, neither would I allow the entire AFP to be dishonored.’”

In his speech when he assumed office, Abu surprised his audience by announcing the abolition of J-6, the office of the deputy chief of staff for comptrollership, which Garcia, and before him Lt. Gen. Jacinto Ligot, headed and which post allegedly allowed them to amass wealth.

Abu ordered that the comptrollership functions be distributed to four independent offices to make up a check and balance system: Resource Management Office, Management and Fiscal Office, the Office of the Internal Auditor, and the Office of Accounting Services. Except for accounting, which is headed by a civilian, the three are headed by a general of at least a one-star rank.

There were several other reforms Abu implemented when he became chief of staff, among them the abolition of the AFP Logistics Command, the limiting of the signing authority of the chief of staff and the service commanders, and the transfer of fund releases from General Headquarters to the major services and their units. The justification for the so-called “fund conversions”—to raise cash for critical military operations not specifically authorized by the budget—was removed with the authorization of outright cash releases for combat expenses to the company commander. The other reform measures would have to be described in detail to be understood.

The reform program was based on many of the findings in the October 2003 report of the Fact-Finding Commission on the Oakwood Mutiny (the so-called Feliciano Report).

With these reforms already in place, Congress would be hard pressed to think up measures to stamp out corruption in the military to justify its hearings. (Perhaps privatizing the AFP by selling it to today’s Pacmen, Ramon Ang and Manuel Pangilinan?)

But if the hearings’ aim was to blacken Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez’s public image in order to convince her or force her to resign, it succeeded. And that agenda of course had nothing to do with the calculation that with Gutierrez down, next would be former President Arroyo.
Of course, the combative stance against Gutierrez of Iloilo Rep. Niel Tupas Jr., chair of the justice committee that undertook the hearings, had nothing to do with the dismissal from office last year of his father Niel Tupas as governor, ordered by the ombudsman who ruled him guilty of graft. Of course, the hearings had nothing to do with exacting revenge against the chief of staff whose defection to EDSA 2 was critical for its victory. After all, the saying that “Revenge is a dish best served cold” is just a silly Sicilian adage.

Other points that have hardly been given attention in the news over the congressional investigations:

Retired Lt. Col. George Rabusa, who has regaled the country with his description of how funds were supposedly siphoned off for corruption, was facing the prospect of a long jail term because of the unexplained-wealth case filed against him in 2004. Prosecutors submitted proof that he had 12 bank accounts containing millions of pesos and had sold a US property, prompting the court to freeze his assets. He is financially in deep trouble because of his expensive lawyers and because of his stroke. However, his testimonies in the Senate have allowed him to strike a deal with the Department of Justice that involves the dropping of the unexplained-wealth case against him.

Rabusa was budget officer (or deputy comptroller) first to comptroller Ligot and then Carlos Garcia from January 2000 to July 2002.
Sen. Jinggoy Estrada quite dramatically confronted Ligot with photos of houses the retired military man purportedly owned in the United States, which obviously he couldn’t have afforded on an officer’s salary.

What many, including the senator, seemed to have not paid much attention to, is that Ligot was comptroller from October 1999 to March 2001. That was during the term of the senator’s father, wasn’t it? Rabusa himself was budget officer for a year during the Estrada administration.
I hope the senator briefed his father, Ligot’s commander in chief when he was comptroller, before his exposés in the Senate.

Sen. Franklin Drilon said recently that he wants to summon former President Arroyo to testify on military corruption. But shouldn’t Estrada logically be the first one who should be summoned, since Ligot and Rabusa started their careers as comptroller and budget officer during his term? Estrada can also explain how he financed the mammoth, unbudgeted expenses for his “biggest military victory,” the capture of the Moro Islamic Liberation Fronts’ Camp Abubakar in 2000.

But perhaps we presume too much, and Drilon was only thinking of summoning Arroyo to give a lecture on how to quietly but radically reform the military while upholding its integrity and enhancing its public image?

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer