“We applaud Ms. Heidi Mendoza’s courage and determination in daring to expose and condemn anomalous transactions within the military,” said Courage president Ferdinand Gaite.
By INA ALLECO R. SILVERIO
MANILA — A government employee upholding the dignity of all other government employees.
The Confederation for Unity, Recognition and Advancement of Government Employees (Courage) yesterday heaped praises on and expressed full support for former Commission on Audit (COA) employee Heidi Mendoza as she stands witness in the controversial plea-bargain agreement involving former military comptroller Carlos Garcia. She is the lone prosecution witness in the case.
“We applaud Ms. Mendoza’s courage and determination in daring to expose and condemn anomalous transactions within the military,” Courage president Ferdinand Gaite said.
In doing so, he said, Mendoza “upheld the dignity of all our fellow rank-and-file employees who are committed to their profession as public servants, despite numerous attempts to corrupt or threaten them.”
As COA auditor, Heidi Mendoza documented massive corruption in the armed forces. (Photo from ellentordesillas.com)
Gaite said Courage agrees with her when she said in an earlier TV interview “that not all government employees are thieves, not all Filipinos are afraid to speak out against corruption.”
Mendoza testified in yesterday’s hearing of the congressional Committee on Justice that was looking into the plea-bargain agreement. Mendoza went full details regarding Garcia’s corruption and how he siphoned millions from the coffers of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
The committee resumed its inquiry into the plea-bargain agreement between state prosecutors and Garcia, on the premise that the agreement was irregular as it will reduce the offense of the former comptroller from plunder to mere direct bribery. Plunder is a capital offense punishable with a life sentence in the Philippines (originally, the punishment is death but if not for the abolition of the death penalty). Direct bribery only carries a penalty of imprisonment from six to 12 years.
The conference room where the hearing was held was full of incumbent and former military officials. Among those who appeared at the hearing because of formal summons from the committee were Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez, fromer AFP chiefs of staff Alexander Yano, Dionisio Santiago, Narciso Abaya, and Generoso Senga. Former Executive Secretary and Defense Secretary Eduardo Ermita was also compelled to appear.
Ex-general Carlos Garcia, who amassed more than P300 million, in a protest poster created by a blogger. (Photo from blogger-index.com/feed234591.html)
The military officials were summoned to give testimony on their knowledge of corruption within the armed forces. It has been posited by lawmakers that Garcia’s crime could also involve other AFP officials.
According to reports, in September 2004, Mendoza was requested by then Ombudsman Simeon Marcelo to lead a group tasked to conduct fraud investigation on the AFP’s funds, with focus on the office of then AFP comptroller Garcia. Hurdling many difficulties, among them hostility from uncooperative government officials, she persisted with her digging and succeeded in unearthing records of suspicious bank transactions as well as other documents that pointed to anomalous transfers of AFP funds.
Mendoza has since asserted that she and her team from the COA have proof of the various anomalies Garcia managed to pull off, including diverting funds from the United Nations intended to support AFP troops in peacekeeping missions abroad. Mendoza has 20 years worth of experience in financial and fraud investigation. After the resignation of Marcelo as ombudsman, COA chairman Guillermo Carague saw no purpose in having Mendoza write a report of her audit findings. She resigned from the COA in 2006.
Gaite said it was despicable that large amounts of money that should have been allocated to social services were instead allotted to the military but ended up being stolen by the likes of Garcia and his cohorts. Garcia is said to have amassed P303 million in ill-gotten wealth while in active service.
Ex-military chief of staff Angelo Reyes pocketed millions while in office, according to ex-colonel George Rabusa. (Photo by Aubrey Makilan / bulatlat.com)
“We also sympathize with the foot soldiers who, like most rank-and-file employees, receive meager wages and whose lives and safety are compromised because the supposed budget for them and the AFP modernization are pilfered by top military officials, apart from the scandalous pabaon (going-away present) that they receive upon retirement,” he said.
Gaite also challenged the Aquino administration to support Mendoza by upholding her testimony and her findings, and hold the officials she named as parties to Garcia’s siphoning scheme criminally liable.
“This administration catapulted itself to power through promises of transparency, anti-corruption and good governance. Aquino’s sincerity in living up to his promises will be measured by his firmness in going after those implicated in this case. Heidi Mendoza presented solid proof of irregularities. We refuse to believe that Aquino cannot do anything about this,” he said.
Gaite pointed out that as chief executive, it is Aquino’s responsibility to ensure that the billions of stolen money should be returned to the national coffers, and those responsible for stealing the said funds be held criminally liable, particularly Garcia and the alleged mafia in the defunct comptrollership office of the armed forces.
Immediately after the hearing, the Department of Justice (DOJ) placed Mendoza under the the provisional coverage of the Witness Protection Program (WPP).
Ex-AFP chief of staff Roy Cimatu was among those identified as having received millions from the slush fund while in office. (Photo by Carlos H. Conde / bulatlat.com)
According to justice secretary Leila De Lima, Mendoza had previously gone to the DoJ to speak with the WPP director regarding measures of security.
While there was still no threat, de Lima said that it was best to implement preventive measures. She said that the DoJ is already evaluating Mendoza’s testimony and application to the WPP for full coverage.
“Heidi is credible and brave, but now runs the risk of being pilloried and ostracized by her former co-workers,” de Lima said.
On a related matter concerning corruption in the AFP, the DOJ is also set to put together a panel to determine the culpability of former top military officials retired Lieutenant George Rabusa mentioned in his own testimony during last January 27’s senate investigations on the same controversy. Rabusa is a former AFP budget officer who admitted that he acted as a bagman for military officials involved in corruption. Among those he charged were retired AFP chiefs of staff Angelo Reyes, Diomedio Villanueva and Roy Cimatu.
De Lima announced that Rabusa’s affidavit and the documents he vowed to submit to bolster his allegations would be a factor in determining what kind of panel will be established.
In his testimony, Rabusa said that Reyes regularly received a P5-million monthly payoff in his 20 months as chief of staff under then president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and that he was also given around P50 million as a retirement gift when he left the post. Villanueva and Cimatu in the meantime were alleged to have received P10 million.
While military officials in the hearings said that having hundreds of millions in a slush fund that can be spent at the disposal of certain generals is a decades-old practice, the corruption apparently worsened during the term of former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
Senator Antonio Trillanes IV, who led the 2003 Oakwood mutiny to protest corruption in the armed forces, said all this exposés of corruption against military officials are linked to the corruption in the Arroyo regime, which was hounded by a series of scandals that threatened her presidency. As a result, Arroyo turned to her loyal generals in the AFP for support, practically allowing them to do as they pleased – including the extrajudicial killings of hundreds of activists.
Arroyo made sure that she had the armed forces under her control by promoting at least six generals as chief of staff in the nine years she was in power, the most number of such appointments by any president.