A trail of plunder in the AFP By Emil B. Justimbaste
“Truth is like the sun. You can shut it out for a time, but it ain’t goin’ away” Elvis Presley,
t could have gone away or gotten buried in the heap of other controversies that media likes to play up, but for the plea bargain deal that just didn’t seem right. Then it exploded, implicated a lot of people inside and outside the military establishment, and now it refuses to die down, I guess not until heads begin to roll. No, no. It’s not enough that one of them commits harakiri to save himself from a life of shame and dishonor. It is time for retribution, said Sen. Antonio Trillanes, himself a victim of lies and deception in his own establishment He and other victims of injustices are simply asking that justice be meted out to the guilty parties, whatever positions they occupy in society. But guilt is such a difﬁcult thing to prove in our justice system, what with its legal twists and turns. If a plea bargain can be arranged with someone charged with a heinous crime such as plunder, resulting in a lesser offense and his temporary liberty, what can we expect to happen to those with lesser offenses, even if these, too, qualify as plunder or thievery on a grand scale?
sentencing but fortunately for him, his prosecutor, Simeon Marcelo retired “for health reasons” and others with lesser sense of honor took over. That gave him the opportunity to plea bargain, saying there was not enough proof to convict him of plunder and that he would consent to return some P139 million to the government provided he was released on bail and the charges of plunder are dropped to a lesser offense of bribery. The Ombudsman took the bait and Garcia posted a P60,000 bail for his temporary freedom. This triggered indignant reactions from the public and the Senate decided to investigate – in aid of legislation – the plea bargain. In the meantime, Ret. Col. George Rabusa had been
In my own little way, I have compiled data that will help ordinary citizens like ourselves understand and appreciate the enormity of the issue and be aware of the possibilities that these things can still be happening at present. With that awareness, a lot of us can be more watchful and, hopefully, more militant. The data cited here were sourced from the internet, newspaper reports and TV interviews and events. Certainly, I could not have gathered them myself being deskbound and a thousand kilometers away from the scene of the events. Much of what is written here are taken from the revelations of Ret. Col. George Rabusa in the Senate hearings and the testimonies of former COA auditor Heidi Mondoza who had resigned from her lucrative job at the ADB in order to testify at these hearings. Her exemplary acts of courage should serve as an example to all government employees, especially to those interested in cleaning up the bureaucracy of corrupt ofﬁcials. So welcome to this treat! Garcia plea bargain The trail of corruption in the military would have remained uncovered had it not been for the plea bargain of the beleaguered Maj. Gen. Carlos Garcia. Some years back, a plunder case was ﬁled against him by the ofﬁce of the Ombudsman. He was subsequently jailed and awaited
Former AFP Comptroller Maj. Gen. Carlos Garcia looking for a venue to air his gripes and revelations and contacted Brig. Gen. Danilo Lim, another aggrieved gentleman from the military establishment who was himself jailed for an alleged mutiny of soldiers which he led with Col. Ariel Querubin. He certainly has his axe to grind against the establishment that gagged him for acts which he considered righteous. For whatever reasons, Lim could not help Rabusa. But Sen. Jinggoy Estrada, who was trying to formulate the right questions to ask in the planned hearing, got hold of Rabusa to help him, not to make him stand as a witness. But the line of the inquiry forced Rabusa out into the open, giving him the opportunity to say his piece – the revelations of an insider in the ways of corruption and plunder in the military
establishment. . Scandalous display of wealth Even before Rabusa came into the picture, there were already telltale signs of questionable wealth being displayed by former Comptrollers Carlos Garcia and Jacinto Ligot. Like an ancient plunderer, both Garcia and Ligot could not help but display their ill-gotten properties and live lavish lifestyles comparable to those of legitimate millionaires. They traveled abroad a number of times with their respective families, bought cars, houses and other properties and spent money beyond their means. Let’s start with Garcia. According to US sources, the money laundering activities of Garcia could have started as early as 1993. Records in the US show the Garcias have been transporting to the US a total of at least $785,630 -- or P43,995,280 – since 1993 from the Philippines But these money laundering became more frequent after he assumed the position of J6 or comptroller on March 2001. From May 10, 2002 to Jan. 15, 2004, Garcia and his wife Clarita brought to the US on four separate occasions a total of $452,000. While still a logistics ofﬁcer of the Army, he brought to the States $25,400 in two separate instances. The last transaction, involving $308,000, was deposited in the Citibank branch at One Park Avenue, New York, on Jan. 15, 2004, an Ombudsman report said. A day earlier, on Jan. 14, Clarita Garcia arrived in San Francisco and declared to the US Customs and Border Patrol that she had $204,230 in her possession. On May 10, 2003, she declared she was carrying $48,000. On Dec. 17, 2003, she declared that she was carrying $100,000. Her sons’ undoing the following month ﬁnally caught up with them. The money transfers were stopped after US Customs and Border Patrol agents held the two Garcia sons, Ian Carl and Juan Paolo, after they failed to declare that they were traveling with $100,000. At once their mother came to their rescue and gave the ofﬁcials a sworn statement detailing the sources of their income. That would trigger the investigation by the Ombudsman, leading to the ﬁling of plunder against him before the Sandiganbayan. The P200 million UN fund Subsequent investigations would show that Garcia had access to and control of the UN Support Fund. As fund custodian, he transferred millions of the UN account from the Land Bank of the Philippines to the United Coconut
Planter’s Bank (UCPB)-Alfaro branch in Makati. Such funds were reimbursed by the UN to support the country’s peacekeeping contingents and not subject to audit since it is not part of the military’s annual outlay. Thus his control was total and absolute. No wonder the temptation was very difﬁcult to resist. On May 24, 2002, the UN remitted a total of US$1.59 million to reimburse expenses for rented equipment and subsistence payments. Ten days later, Garcia’s wife Clarita opened a dollar account with Allied bank amounting to US$75,000. His deposits in the AFPSLAI reached P7 million that year. The UN would be sending bigger amounts in the coming months. Rabusa, in his testimony, would claim that this was one of the sources of Provisions for Command Directed Activities (PCDA), which was readily available to the AFP chief. During a pre-investigation by the defense department, it was revealed that the AFP has no records of how the UN funds were used before 2005. In last Tuesday’s hearing, the House defense committee was told that the military illegally diverted $55 million or about P2.4 billion in reimbursements from the UN to an account in a private bank. The P200 million UN fund deposited in the Landbank was part of that. It was withdrawn and later on deposited to the “AFP Inter-agency Fund Transfer” in the UCPB Alfaro branch account. Curiously the P200 million check got cleared on the same day—on November 28, 2002. It usually takes banks 3 days to clear checks coming from other banks. ”It was made to appear that the amount was deposited in only one account. However, the account had two passbooks, one which showed a deposit of P100 million, and the other, P50 million.” The P50 million entry was not however machine-validated but only typewritten. And what happened to the other P50 million? In that transaction, P100 million was lost. Moreover, the inter-agency account in the private bank “was not booked,” and, hence, “the transfer of cash was not reﬂected in the AFP’s books of accounts,” Mendoza said. In other words, the P200 million disappeared. It was also during this time that Garcia’s personal accounts became active. That same year, he made a dozen trips abroad—Europe, US, Singapore, Hong Kong—even if his work did not require him to do so. In 2003, he made seven trips abroad, including a trip to Europe in early December with his wife, a military aide, and the latter’s wife. That same year, he took $200,000 to
the US as down payment for two posh condominium units in New York. In December 2003, the UN deposited a total of US$461,982 as payback for the same expenses in 2002. That same month, Garcia and his wife brought in US$100,000 on a trip to the United States. From January to March in 2004, he made three outward dollar transmittals amounting to P27 million. An initial investigation by Robert Funk, Chief of the Compliance and Investigation Unit of the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) in the US, found in their database that as of October 11, 2004, Garcia, his wife and their children had a total of P44,590,290.48 in various bank accounts under their names in dollars, of course. In the Philippines, the Garcias have at least 13 dollar accounts in various banks, including one at the UCPB Alfaro branch where he kept a $303,507 account. On top of this, they have properties in the US valued at $1.42 million. His estimated ill-gotten wealth amounted to P285 million. In all, they have at least 40 bank accounts in the country, including seven bank accounts in Land Bank of the Philippines, 23 in Allied Banking Corp., four in Banco De Oro Universal Bank, six in Bank of the Philippine Islands, 16 in United Coconut Planters Bank, and ﬁve in Planters Development Bank. These do not include accounts in US and other foreign banks. The Ombudsman has accordingly frozen these accounts. Clarita’s avowals All of these plundering acts could have been hushed up and contained had the wife of Garcia, Clarita, showed a little ﬁnesse when she came to the defense of her two sons caught with the undeclared $100,000. Instead, she bragged about the privileged life of her husband that allowed him to amass so much money from the AFP’s suppliers and contractors. In a sworn statement, Clarita Garcia explained that her husband was “the ﬁnal signature for funding the contracts”, adding that her husband’s position in the Armed Forces “is one of privilege” and that “the gratitude monies that he receives is common and unsolicited.” Her husband routinely took “gratitude money” for approving and paying military contracts. During Garcia’s trips abroad, they each accepted up to $20,000 “shopping money” from suppliers, traveled business class and enjoyed ﬁrst-class hotel accommodations
paid for by project proponents during their many travels together. These they spent on their own discretion without the need of submitting any receipts, Clarita said. These revelations triggered the investigation of Garcia by the Ombudsman, ending in his arrest and incarceration. Jacinto Ligot Between the two comptrollers, Jacinto Ligot is probably less ostentatious in his display of ill-gotten wealth. He has kept his mouth shut during Senate and Congressional committee hearings, invoking his right not to incriminate himself, much to the chagrin of lawmakers who want to get to the bottom of corruption in the AFP. Likewise, he has kept his wife out of the limelight, even professing ignorance of her travels abroad with the wife of the late Gen. Reyes, Teresita. But documents do not lie and tell a lot of stories. According to the Land Registration Authority, Ligot’s wife, Erlinda, owned a unit at the Essensa condominium at the Fort in Taguig in April 2003. The unit was sold in August the same year to a certain Edgardo Yambao, Erlinda’s brother. The unit was worth more than P20 million. When Ligot was asked how his wife was able to acquire the expensive condominium unit, Ligot invoked his right against self-incrimination and refused to answer. Igot likewise feigned ignorance of two houses his wife bought in Annaheim and Buena Park, California. The Annaheim property was worth some $504 thousand while the Buena Park $183 thousand. He said his wife did not tell him about these acquisitions. In the Senate hearings, Ligot also denied knowing about the travels of his wife abroad with the wife of the late Gen. Reyes, saying he was often in the ﬁeld where communication was difﬁcult. But the travel documents brought up by Sen. Jinggoy Estrada in his interrogation of Ligot were incontestable. Erlinda traveled abroad at least 42 times during the period of Ligot’s comptrollership, 13 of these with Mrs. Reyes. In many of these trips, Rabusa said he supplied Mrs. Reyes with money for their shopping and other perks. An initial investigation by the Ombudsman shows that Ligot amassed over P60 million in cash and property here and abroad during his stint as comptroller of the AFP. Ligot admitted under questioning from Iloilo Rep. Arturo Defensor that he did not own any property before he joined the AFP.
security. Rabusa said the annual budget of the AFP usually exceeds the actual number to be paid by around 20 percent. This is where they get their money, “convert” it at the Intelligence Services of the AFP because funds released by this unit is not subject to the strict rules of government auditing. Thus, Rabusa as treasurer maintained P20 million reserve fund in cold cash in his ofﬁce from which he and his superiors withdrew their monies for their perks, travels, allowances, bribe money, representation. Name it, Rabusa supplied it. He said he would replenish the fund whenever it went below the P20-million reserve, which was easily done through the so-called “conversion”. There was a resident COA auditor by the name of Divina Cabrera to make sure the transactions were legal. Of course, Divina was also on the take. At ﬁrst, it was only 1 percent. Later, Cabrera demanded 2 percent, knowing the prodigious amounts and the weight of responsibility on her shoulders. Because of her usefulness to the AFP brass, Cabrera overstayed in her post for 13 years, instead of the required 3 years only. Former AFP Comptroller Lt. General Jacinto Ligot Rabusa’s Revelations But it was retired Lt. Col. George Rabusa who would give us a glimpse into the operating procedures of money making in the highest levels of the AFP. His revelations showed just where the funds come from, how the funds were withdrawn and whether those who used them have any accountability. The amounts available to the big bosses are almost unbelievable as these reach billions of pesos. Their disbursement is just as incredulous for its near-total absence of ﬁnancial controls and accountability. The wonder of it all was that the method was simple enough, and a lot of former APF bosses probably knew about it but preferred to look elsewhere or took part of the loot that came from the systemic plunder. Rabusa himself admitted that he was part of the rotten system and had in fact beneﬁted from it. He was subsequently charged with three counts of perjury and unlawfully acquiring property and vehicles amounting to more than P43 million despite only having an annual salary of P275,000. But Rabusa and his bosses had only inherited the system. We still do not know who started it all. In the military establishment, the annual budgets are for the “troop ceiling” of some 120,000 soldiers, but the actual warm bodies that ﬁll these up are much lesser, a number that the AFP refuses to disclose for reasons of national
Rabusa disclosed that at one time Cabrera wanted to burn the evidences but he said they might end up burning the ISAFP ofﬁce. In the Senate hearings, Sen. Franklin Drilon revealed that Cabrera owned an expensive condominium, which she promptly denied. A lifestyle check on Cabrera would probably reveal more. If their COA ﬁxer was getting something for her services, so did a lot of others in the AFP brass and their underlings. But the biggest takers, according to Rabusa, were the chiefs of staff themselves who, at the beginning of their term, had a “pasalubog” in millions of cash and a “pabaon” at the end of their term, which likewise amounted to several millions. On the assumption of their term, they would usually have a small secret conference among the three of them: the treasurer, comptroller and the new chief of staff. Here the chief would be briefed as to where he would be getting his representation allowances and money for other perks. He said P10 million was regularly allotted every month, half of which was used for representation and the other he kept to himself. This is on top of the pasalubong and the pabaon. Besides the late Angelo Reyes, former chiefs of staff Roy Cimatu and Diomegdio Villanueva beneﬁted from this system. In the case of Reyes, the P50 million proved too bulky, so they had to convert it into dollars when Rabusa brought it to Reyes with Jacinto Ligot accompanying him. Both Reyes and Ligot would deny this allegation.
AFP spokesman Brig. Gen. Jose Mabanta did not deny the malpractice but assured that it no longer exists. That remains to be seen though. The investigations are far from over. Not all the linkages of plunder have been uncovered as yet. . More sources of corruption In last Monday’s appearance of former COA auditor Heidi Mendoza at the House committee hearing, she bared her ﬁndings on the AFP modernization fund, funds for Balikatan and UN.funds. The AFP Modernization Act of 1995 allotted a total of P331 billion over 15 years for upgrading its capabilities but only P28.9 billion has been budgeted. As of Dec. 31, 2003, of the P1.6 billion allotment, 94 percent or about P1.5 billion pertained to letters of credit opened for acquisition of equipment. Former AFP Treasurer Lt. Col. George Rabusa Of the three chiefs, Villanueva appeared to have gotten the biggest pabaon with P150 million. It was the bulk of the pabaon (PCDA) funds that they had to withdraw immediately from one bank account fearing discovery. The fund amounted to P164 million, including the interest, but the then Comptroller Garcia kept the P14 million. Garcia also denied this. Others on the take included the vice chief of staff, who allegedly received P1.5 million; deputy chief of staff, P1.5 million; secretary of joint staff, P1 million, personnel of the House legislative ofﬁce, retired generals, and members of the Defense Press Corps, Rabusa said.
“What is questionable about this letters of credit is the money is deposited even before the contract is perfected. We know someone will deﬁnitely earn from it,” Mendoza said. As to who will beneﬁt, she did not say. But she tagged the suppliers who seemed to be “favored.” These were Alvenru Enterprises, ETH Builders, CURM Enterprises, Ilamu Sales and Cherub. Who the owners of these are or what are their linkages to the AFP, she did not say. But it would be interesting to note that these very same suppliers were also involved in the contracts for meals, vehicle rental and supplies under the Balikatan and UN funds. “While several transactions were allegedly bidded on the same date, there were similar items procured from dif-
At one time, he was known as a good padrino since he was very generous in his “handouts.” For the boys on a night out, he would give P8,000 each for drinks and women. For some classmates who were on a schooling, it was P5,000 a month. For the wives of his bosses, it was $10,000 to $20,000 on travels abroad. For local travels, he gave them P30,000 to P200,000. He shelled out money as if it was his own. Since the AFP had to deal with the House committee on appropriations, Rabusa said he personally delivered P500T to former Cong. Propspero Pichay on three occasions and as well as a director of COA who received P200 thousand every time they met. The wonder of it all is that these expenses were not subject to the usual government auditing rules.
COA Auditor Heidi Mendoza
ferent suppliers at different prices, so it is a challenge to your imagination,” Mendoza remarked. Mendoza and her audit team also saw “excessive regular expenses for food and representation expenses to favored supplier like Alvenrue” totaling to P2.3 million, or 73 percent of the total budget for food using Balikatan funds from 2002 to 2003.. The team likewise questioned the trainings conducted almost every working day from June to August 2002. The cost of expenses for these trainings ranged between P39,000 to P130,000 per day, totaling to P2.4 million. Moreover, double charging of expenses appeared to be commonly practiced in both the Balikatan and UN funds. For instance, the P9.1 million expenses for petroleum, oil and lubricant under the Balikatan fund were at the same
time charged to the UN fund. Also charged to both Balikatan and UN funds were P120 million for the repair of a C-130 Air Force plane, she said. In 2006, an investigation on the United Nations Peacekeeping Fund was conducted after returning Filipino soldiers from Haiti complained about cuts in the monthly US$1,000 troop cost allowance (TCA) that they were entitled to for their peacekeeping job. The soldiers at the time were grumbling that the pay cuts might have ended up in the pockets of corrupt ofﬁcers. The investigation did not prosper and was eventually forgotten because no one could be pinpointed responsible for the mess. But with the current investigations and the records of scandalous transactions being unearthed, the aggrieved soldiers may have been given enough ammunition to shoot at real live targets in the AFP brass who had fattened their bank accounts with ill-gotten money. #
a special report on corruption in the philippine military establishment