Carol Pagaduan-Araullo | Only the Tip

By CAROL PAGADUAN-ARAULLO
Streetwise | BusinessWorld
Posted by Bulatlat.com

Former military budget officer Lt. Col. George Rabusa’s revelations of big-bucks, institutionalized corruption within the Armed Forces of the Philippines during the Senate investigation into the deal struck between government prosecutors and Gen. Carlos Garcia, former AFP comptroller charged with plunder before the Sandiganbayan, has opened up a veritable can of worms.

Heidi Mendoza, a former state auditor who examined the financial accounts of the AFP in connection with the Garcia case, subsequently testified that she found evidence of anomalies in the handling of a P200-million UN fund transferred to the AFP during the time of Gen. Garcia and other serious irregularities. She was prevented from pursuing her investigation by her superiors in the Commission on Audit, one of whom said that a Malacañang official had expressed concern about the inquiry.

When a new Ombudsman was appointed, prosecutors suddenly changed tack, claiming that the evidence against Garcia was weak and it was better to enter into a plea bargain that would allow the government to recover some of the money Garcia purloined in exchange for which he and his co-accused wife and sons would be spared hefty jail terms.

This development would have gone by unnoticed had it not been leaked to the press and caused much uproar.

Which way the Garcia trial and the renewed investigation into high-level shenanigans in the AFP will go and what reforms, if any, can be brought about remains to be seen.

On the one hand, it is of utmost urgency that the deal between the Ombudsman and Garcia, which the Sandiganbayan has acted upon by allowing Garcia to post bail, be struck down. Either the Ombudsman rescinds their accession to the plea bargain and/or the Sandiganbayan rejects it, plain and simple.

Should the plea bargain be upheld, public opinion must be mobilized and legal action taken to put a stop to this insulting and injurious conspiracy by the accused, prosecutors, and the court itself to flout justice.

Mendoza’s account of how her efforts to find a paper trail documenting Gen. Garcia’s and possibly other officials’ wrongdoing were being thwarted, her reports disregarded, and eventually, her findings junked as useless in prosecuting Garcia, must be thoroughly investigated.

The revelations of Col. Rabusa regarding hundreds of millions of people’s money being systematically siphoned off into a slush fund for the generals and other senior officers during the Arroyo regime also deserves a major investigative effort by the Aquino administration.

This should not be difficult for Mr. Aquino to do since the people eagerly look forward to seeing guilty Arroyo officials, if not Mrs. Arroyo herself, finally get their just deserts — their ill-gotten wealth confiscated, their reputations exposed to match their ignoble careers, and the rest of their retirement years served in prison.

In particular, the AFP’s rank and file, including still idealistic young officers, would be a strong ally of a determined presidency to uncover and run after the top brass who have treasonously appropriated money that should have been used for proper armaments and supplies, the soldiers’ salaries and welfare but instead were diverted for the generals’ and their families’ lavish lifestyles.

Likely there are several more Col. Rabusas and Heidi Mendozas waiting to be provided the right incentive and environment to reveal what they know and thereby lighten the burden of their consciences. Already, Lt. Col. Antonio Ramon “Sonny” Lim has stepped forward to add what he knows and corroborate and support the testimony of Col . Rabusa, having been Col. Rabusa’s assistant in the AFP budget office.

There is the purported concern by active and retired officers that the military institution would be placed at risk by a thoroughgoing and systematic examination of the extent of the corruption that has seeped into it. But this is the refuge of the guilty — by those who profit from the corrupt system and those in responsible positions who look the other way for one reason or another — in order to fend off a wide-open investigation.

It will not be enough to run after the military officials who presided over and benefitted from the corrupt system during the Arroyo years. Two senators, both former military officers, have already pointed to the culpability and likely complicity of Mrs. Arroyo herself as Commander in Chief as well as Defense officials in allowing such abusive practices such as the Provision for Command-Directed Activities or PCDA slush fund.

Apart from a hefty military budget that the erring AFP officials could then plunder at will, there were juicy military contracts, generous US military aid, dollar-denominated UN peacekeeping funds, and even the poor foot soldiers’ savings and loan associations that the money-grubbers were allowed to get their hands on.

The motives of the Arroyo clique are not hard to fathom: the military, the generals to be precise, stood as the last line of defense for a thoroughly unpopular, if not despised, and embattled Chief Executive who was on the verge of being ousted at several points in her nine-year rule.

All must be reminded though that to get at the root of why corruption has become so pervasive and institutionalized in the military (and the police establishment for that matter), one must take a good look not just at the last nine years of the Arroyo reign.

Let us recall how the state security apparatus became transmogrified by the US-backed Marcos dictatorship into its private army to suppress dissent and crush opposition using all sorts of bribes and inducements.

Let us study history and understand how the military and police evolved from a mercenary and reactionary tradition of protecting the interests of foreign interlopers and their partner elites. Such an anti-people history and orientation cannot but lead to the current depraved and debauched outcome.

Seen in this light, it is clear that Garcia, to borrow a cliché, is only the now visible tip of the proverbial iceberg. There is much more to this sordid affair than plunder and certainly more people in higher places than Gen. Garcia who are not only complicit but guiltier.

Justice will certainly not be served and there can be no real “pagbabago” or “daang matuwid” until all the rot that has festered so long in the AFP — and above it — is thoroughly exposed and exorcised. ()

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