By INA ALLECO R. SILVERIO
MANILA — Lawamaker and lawyer Neri Javier Colmenares of Bayan Muna party is calling for the deferral of the Department of National Defense (DND) modernization budget. He said the DND’s budget should be deferred because of the agency’s and Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin’s failure to satisfactorily explain the possible misuse of the modernization fund through the overpriced communication systems worth P1.8 billion ($42.857 million).
During recent deliberations on the 2013 budget proposal, Colmenares questioned how P1.645 billion ($39.1 million) was allotted for 6,356 handheld radios, pointing out how each cost a staggering P258,823 ($6,162.
He also exposed the P138,400,000 ($3.295 million) price of 100 base radios which cost P1.4 million ($333,333) each. The Bayan Muna solon also expressed shock over how P99.483 million ($236,904) was used in buying 2,934 global positioning system units which cost P33,907 ($810) each.
“The lame excuse that these units are 10 times overpriced because they have military specs is unacceptable especially since the AFP cannot explain what specs these units have other than being durable,” Colmenares said.
Military involvement in killings of activists
Colmenares also questioned the sincerity of the Aquino government in resolving human rights violations because of the failure of the military to appear before the Regional Trial Court in Negros trying the case of Pfc. Rafael Cordova and Pfc. Reygine Laus who are both accused of killing Bayan Muna member Benjamin Bayles in June 2010.
Earlier this year, Colmenares slammed the AFP’s claim that it has actively investigated soldiers involved in extra-judicial killings of activists.
“The military’s record of human rights violations continues to increase. There has been no end to the extra-judicial killings of human rights advocates and members of progressive party-list groups. The AFP’s claim that they are investigating criminal acts of their troops is a lie, and I can personally attest to that,” he said.
Colmenares has insisted that Pres. Benigno Aquino III and Gazmin’s premise that they will cooperate in the resolution of the murder case of Bayles is an empty gesture.
“Two years have passed but Col. Richard Bayhon and Col. Edilberto Soratos have still succeeded in ignoring the four or five subpoenas the RTC Branch 55 in Negros have issued calling for the trial of Pfc. Cordova and Pfc. Laus,” he said.
Colmenares also said he had also spoken to Army spokesman Col. Federico Tutaan several times to insist that the AFP respond to the court’s subpoena in the Bayles case. But no army officer has responded.
“Gazmin and Tutaan have been paying this case lip service. They should contest my assertion and prove that they are not lying. In any case, the RTC should cite both officials in contempt,” he said.
Bayles was killed in June 2010 in a public plaza. Unlike the cases of other extrajudicial killings, the killers who rode a motorcycle were arrested by the police right after the shooting. Soon after, the AFP was forced to admit that the two men who were arrested were members of the Philippine Army.
“Sec. Gazmin admitted this during the deliberation of the defense budget in Congress. This is a major breakthrough. This is the case that everyone is waiting for – the trial of the decade because this is the smoking gun on the identity of the perpetrators of extra-judicial killings,” he stressed.
But despite the development, colmenares noted that the Aquino government has refused to fulfill its promise it will officially inform the court that the two are indeed members of the AFP.
“This only means that the posturing of the Aquino government of trying to protect human rights and curb impunity is a lie. It’s the same tactic used by Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo during her office,” he said.
The lawmaker said the AFP’s declaration of commitment to human rights was sorely lacking in credibility.
“The US state department itself has been withholding millions of dollars every year because of human rights violations. The agency even had the US$2 million ($476,190) that was withheld in 2009 during the time of Sec. Gilbert Teodoro,” he said.