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Hoodlums in uniform

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Once the pride of the nation for their heroic defense of freedom and the Motherland, a small band of military officers -- sworn to protect the people and the State – are now in the midst of a firestorm that could irreparably damage the image of the armed forces’ general staff.  Indeed, it might even cause the eventual demise of the six-decade old Philippine Military Academy (PMA) – which was patterned after the West Point military academy of the United States -- where all officers of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) completed their formal training.  And it’s all because of the greed and corruption that have spawned into a monstrosity during the last decade.  As a result of all the corruption cases involving PMAers, there are now talks of tapping ROTC cadets for commissioning to the officers’ corps of the AFP.

And if one brave retired soldier – Col. George Rabusa -- did not come out to expose the shenanigans perpetrated by AFP’s high command, corruption in the military would remain unabated and unrestrained. But thanks to Rabusa, all of that might just come to an end soon and bring the hoodlums in uniform to justice.

*Rabusa’s bombshell

It all began when the Senate formed an investigation panel to look into the controversial plea bargaining agreement that former AFP Comptroller Maj. Gen. Carlos Garcia – Rabusa’s former boss -- negotiated with the Office of the Ombudsman, which dropped the charges of plunder and substituted a guilty plea to lesser offenses of bribery and money laundering, with a promise to surrender P135 million out of the P303 million he illegally amassed.  

During the Senate investigation, Sen. Jinggoy Estrada surprised everybody when he brought in Rabusa to testify.  Rabusa accused Gen. Angelo Reyes of receiving P150 million including a P50-million “pabaon” (send-off money) when he retired as AFP Chief of Staff in 2001.   He said that he and his boss, then AFP Comptroller Lt. Gen. Jacinto Ligot (Garcia’s predecessor), personally delivered the money to Reyes at his staff quarters, known as the “White House.”

Rabusa, who was the budget officer at that time, worked directly under Ligot and Garcia, who were then called the “Comptroller Mafia.” He was their “bagman.”  He also implicated the Chiefs of Staff who succeeded Reyes, Generals Diomedio Villanueva and Roy Cimatu, saying that they illicitly received around P10 million monthly while in service and pocketed half of it.  He indicated that he would execute an affidavit detailing the corruption under Reyes, Villanueva, and Cimatu, and the “rotten system” in the AFP during the period from 2000 to 2002.  He said that Garcia and he “converted” – or laundered – almost P1 billion between 2000 and 2001.

*“Dead man walking”

Reactions from the senators were spontaneous, some of whom said that Rabusa’s testimony was credible and that the government should file charges against Reyes based on his exposé.  If charges were to be filed against Reyes and the others, Rabusa would most likely become a state witness, a specter that could bring a conviction of plunder against the accused.  In fact, Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago was so optimistic of conviction that she said over the radio that Reyes was a “dead man walking.” 

But it’s not going to be easy to convict Reyes.  He has strong ties to former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, which means that he might also be protected by Gloria’s allies in the Judiciary including the Office of the Ombudsman, which is still headed by Merceditas Gutierrez, a close friend of former First Gentleman Mike Arroyo.  Indeed, it could be an uphill battle for the government who may be able to secure a conviction from the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan – assuming that the Ombudsman would put real effort to prosecute Reyes – but would be stymied in the Supreme Court where Reyes – with Gloria’s aid -- could muster enough support from the justices to overturn his conviction.  

It is interesting to note that Reyes’ link to Gloria was tempered during the ouster of Joseph “Erap” Estrada from the presidency in January 2001. 

Reyes, who was Estrada’s AFP Chief of Staff, withdrew his support of Estrada and threw it, together with his top commanders, behind Gloria at the crucial time.  With the AFP high command abandoning Estrada, then Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Hilario Davide Jr. quickly sworn in Gloria as “President” instead of “Acting President” as he reportedly had agreed to -- while Estrada was still President! -- Gloria’s ascendancy was a fait accompli. 
It is no wonder then that when Reyes reached mandatory retirement age, Gloria appointed him two days after he retired to a succession of plum positions: National Defense Secretary, Anti-Kidnapping Czar, Anti-Smuggling Czar, Environment Secretary, and Energy Secretary.  Indeed, Reyes has served Gloria well throughout her presidency. 

It did not come then as a surprise when Rabusa implicated Gloria in a fraudulent military transaction, which he said cost the government $2 million.  At that time, Reyes was the Defense Secretary, Villanueva was the AFP Chief of Staff, Cimatu was the Vice Chief of Staff, and Garcia was the Comptroller.  If Rabusa could provide a strong testimony, the government might be able to take all five of them down in one clean swoop. That would indeed be a major, major victory for President Aquino in his fight against corruption, bagging no less than the “Big Kahuna” herself.

*Prosecute corruption

It is for this reason that Aquino should put all the power of his presidency behind the prosecution of corruption in the military.  If corruption were successfully prosecuted, it could be the tipping point in ridding the military establishment of hoodlums in uniform. 

And just like the Phoenix that rose from the ashes, the Philippine Military Academy could once again shine as a noble institution that produces disciplined and dedicated officers, worthy of the respect by the people they are sworn to protect. 

As Edmund Burke once said, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing,” the time has come for Filipinos to rise to put an end to the scourge that has wrought havoc for so long.

At the end of the day, all it took was one brave soldier who stepped up to the plate to right a wrong.

By Perry Diaz




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