By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA — Lt. Col. George Rabusa, former budget officer of the Armed Forces of the Philippines from 2000 to 2002, revealed the skeletons in the closet of the military.
Rabusa testified anew Feb. 7 at the Senate inquiry on the plea bargain agreement forged by the Office of the Ombudsman with retired Major General Carlos Garcia, former AFP comptroller who is being accused of amassing wealth from public funds.
Garcia is out on bail after the plea bargain agreement. Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez defended Garcia’s plea bargain by saying that the evidence against Garcia is weak. Garcia reportedly amassed $6.88 million during his stint as AFP comptroller. Garcia’s sons were caught smuggling $100,000 into the United States in December 2003. Garcia was also reported to have properties abroad.
Rabusa admitted being part of the “rotten system” and never denied amassing money during his stint as budget officer. But all those money, he said, went to his and his wife’s medical bills and legal fees that piled up since 2004.
On Feb. 7, Rabusa said former congressman Prospero Pichay and former commissioner of the Commission on Audit Raul Flores also received money from the military. Divina Cabrera who introduced Flores to Rabusa was also accused of receiving a one to two percent share from the so-called converted funds from the military. Cabrera was a resident auditor of the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (Isafp) for 13 years (1991 to 2005) and now she is with the Philippine Navy occupying the same position.
Rabusa revealed that all retiring AFP chiefs of staff received “send-off” money taken from AFP funds.
Among the military former chiefs of staff who allegedly received send-off money was the late Angelo Reyes, former AFP chief of staff who retired 2001 and allegedly received $1.13 million plus a monthly allowance of $113,636 for the 20 months he was chief of staff.
Two other generals who were also accused of receiving send-off money are former AFP chiefs of staff Diomedo Villanueva and Roy Cimatu. According to Rabusa’s testimony during the Feb. 3 Senate hearing, he prepared $3.63 million as send-off money upon Villanueva’s retirement in May 2002. The funds were raised from the provision for command-directed activities (PCDA). PCDA is a slush fund maintained by the leadership of the military.
He revealed during the hearing that he was ordered by then comptroller Garcia to withdraw $227,000 16 times as send-off money for Villanueva. Rabusa also prepared $1.8 million as send-off money also upon orders of Garcia.
However, Rabusa expressed doubts that Villanueva received the send-off money. He said he gave the send-off money for Villanueva and Cimatu through Garcia. During the Feb. 3 hearing, he said that when he was asking for financial help from Villanueva, the latter said he did not have any money. According to news report, the conversation between Rabusa and Villanueva happened when Garcia already retired. Rabusa asked about the send-off money that he supposedly received but Villanueva did not seem to receive any. Rabusa said during the hearing, “He was surprised, like he didn’t know about it. So I do not know where the $3.63 million went.”
Former AFP chief of staff Narciso Abaya also confirmed during the hearing in the House of Representatives that the PCDA funds do exists. But he denied receiving any send-off money. News reports said that according to Abaya the multimillion “slush fund” was used as “a discretionary fund of the AFP chief of staff, which he gave out as incentives to personnel or used for emergency expenses in the field.”
But in Rabusa’s expose, the PCDA was used as send-off money to retiring chiefs of staff. He also exposed that there are other beneficiaries of the funds from the office of the AFP vice chief of staff, deputy chief of staff, and the secretary of the joint chiefs of staff.
Arroyo’s senior military aide allegedly also received funds as well as the military auditor, House legislative officer, retired generals, defense press corps, surgeon general, chief nurse, janitors and gardeners.
Rabusa also said Reyes authorized the purchase of $4.5 million worth of howitzer ammunition from Thailand without public bidding. The funds for the procurement of ammunition were financed by savings from the salary of military personnel.
Meanwhile, during Cimatu’s term, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) from an Israeli company were also purchased without public bidding. According to Rabusa, the UAV, worth $2 million, crashed after it was used in actual operations.
Missing UN Funds
Another $5 million United Nations funds is unaccounted for according to whistle-blower Heidi Mendoza. She was then the leader of the 11-man Commission on Audit (COA) team tasked to conduct a financial investigation in the AFP in Oct. 2004. Mendoza’s team was tasked to work with the Office of the Ombudsman then headed by Simeon Marcelo. Mendoza audited the soldier’s pension fund, the Balikatan fund, UN fund, and the AFP modernization fund in light of the cases to be filed against Garcia while he was the AFP comptroller.
The $5 million UN funds, according to Mendoza, was not posted in the AFP book of accounts. She also said that according to her own sources, the $5 million check was picked up by an AFP officer but her source did not give her the name of the officer.
On Feb. 9 Defense committee hearing, Col. Ariel Querubin backed the claims regarding the missing UN funds. Querubin was a part of the contingent sent to East Timor in June 2001. He said they were forced to ride a leaking Philippine vessel while the other foreign soldiers arrived by plane in their destination.
During their stint in the peace keeping mission, Querubin said, their allowance was not given in full. Their barracks were built in light nipa hut materials while the other foreign soldiers have their air conditioned rooms. They got sub par vehicles and equipment broke down or jammed regularly. They ended up borrowing spare parts from their Thai counterparts.
According to data from the Department of Foreign Affairs, the UN allocates $1,028 allowance per month per soldier of any rank in a peace keeping mission. They also provide a $68 allowance fir clothing, $5 for weaponry, $303 as specialist allowance.
Explaining their side, AFP deputy chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Reynaldo Mapagu said they deducted from the allowance the expense for the pre-deployment and post deployment of soldiers to a peace keeping mission. They said they upgraded the allowance of soldiers to $900 per month.
On the other hand, Bayan Muna Rep. Teddy Casino said they extrapolated that at least $27,000 was taken off monthly from the East Timor contingent alone. “At present, they are skimming off at least $200 per soldier per month for highly dubious pre-deployment expenses.”
Querubin also said they were told that they had $1,000 in the bank but only $71 was allocated for their own use as “the rest was for the contingency fund of the chief of staff.” Quoting from news reports, Querubin said, “There were other entitlements not given to us because the AFP used the money to defray administration costs and other contingencies.” “I lost my national pride in East Timor,” Querubin said.
Other Government Officials Involved
During the last hearing held Feb. 7 Rabusa disclosed that Pichay is also receiving money coming from the military. Pichay was head of the committee on defense in the House of Representatives, according to news reports the head of the committee on defense defends the budget of the military.
According to Rabusa, Garcia always asked him to prepare $11,363 for Pichay whenever he is visiting the office of the AFP chief of staff. But Pichay denied the allegations saying that he only went to the office of the AFP chief of staff once during a command conference. Flores, on the other hand, received $4,545 bribe from the military, Rabusa claimed.
Both wives of former AFP chief of staff General Reyes and former AFP comptroller Jacinto Ligot also benefited from the alleged corruption in the military. Senate President Pro Tempore Jinggoy Estrada revealed last Feb.7 hearing that both wives traveled together 13 times from 1993 to 2004.
Estrada said Erlinda Ligot bought two properties in the United States. In 2002, Mrs. Ligot reportedly bought more than $183,000 worth of property in 7102 Stanton Ave., Buena Park, California and another one in 1240 Cabernet Circle, Anaheim, California worth $504,000 in 2003.
On the other hand, Teresita Reyes traveled 48 times also from1993 to 2004 while Mrs. Ligot traveled 42 times. Rabusa said he tapped funds from the military for Mrs. Reyes and Mrs. Ligot’s travel allowance. Rabusa said the amount of travel allowance depends on how many the delegations were. He gave them $10,000 when Mrs. Ligot and Mrs. Reyes traveled together with other wives of military officials. He said he gave Mrs. Reyes $5,000 when he was in Los Angeles for an official mission.