Blood money - editorial on CORRUPTION IN THE MILITARY

Blood money -, Philippine News for Filipinos

Blood money
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 22:15:00 02/04/2011

IN THE freaky, upside-down world that is the Armed Forces of the Philippines, it turns out that former AFP Chief of Staff and Defense Secretary Angelo Reyes has reason to be aggrieved at the scrutiny he’s had to endure lately.

“Was I greedy?” he asked former military budget officer and now whistle-blower George Rabusa at the Senate hearing, after the latter’s disclosure that Reyes had received P50 million as “pabaon” when he retired from the AFP. Instead of categorically denying he did get the money, Reyes offered a breathtakingly skewed defense by insinuating he had, in fact, acted with honor and integrity by not taking more than what others in his position might have taken. He wasn’t greedy, you see.

Unfortunately for the suddenly stupefied Reyes, who before this moment was the very model of the blunt, straight-talking soldier, the logical pretzel he offered only roused bigger questions. If P50 million as a retirement gift wasn’t an indication of greed, what was? In the baroque arithmetic employed by the AFP, what is the tipping point beyond which largesse of the kind doled out to Reyes now qualified as unusual, unseemly or out of bounds?

Later another bombshell rolled out of Rabusa’s treasure chest of secrets, and it had the effect of vindicating, if in a perverse way, Reyes’ lament. His two successors at the AFP helm, Rabusa revealed, got much heftier amounts upon their departure from service: P80 million for Roy Cimatu, and a mind-boggling P160 million for Diomedio Villanueva.

In the sense, then, that P50 million is much less than these amounts, yes, Reyes had a point. Why pick on him? The scale of his greed and the irregularity of his case do look moderate compared to the brazen avariciousness of his successors.

It is a testament, of course, to the jaw-dropping corruption that now defines the AFP that its leaders are reduced to Orwellian logical and moral contortions to justify the looting and banditry they have visited on public funds allotted to the organization. Laughable—except that the joke, as always, has been on the public and the nation which has had to foot the bill and suffer the consequences of its generals’ crookedness.

Those consequences are not remote or abstract, but are a matter of life and death. Ask the regular foot soldier out there in the jungle risking life and limb to defend a country that has allowed its military top brass to consign him to the most deprived and threadbare of conditions. While the AFP’s bemedalled hotshots are whooping it up in their plush houses, exclusive clubs and golf courses, the grunts have to make do with disintegrating uniforms, substandard boots, creaky transport and miserly supplies.

It has long been an open secret in government, but the salutary effect of laying bare all this rank rot on primetime TV is to distill widespread outrage. The Association of Generals and Flag Officers (Agfo), a soldiers’ group expected under normal conditions to join the circling of the wagons, has found the moxie to denounce the corruption in its mother organization and call for the punishment of officers involved in diverting public funds for their private ends.

And Rabusa’s revelations have received corroboration from another eyewitness, Col. Antonio Lim, who has admitted to helping ex-military comptroller Carlos Garcia prepare the millions set aside for Cimatu and Villanueva. These revelations, in any case, close the loop on what has been a nagging loose end in the Garcia case. How could a two-star general amass more than P300 million in assets without his superiors not finding out about it? That kind of artful larceny requires active collusion from others, but so far Garcia has been tight-lipped about his co-conspirators. Now, the money trail says it loud and clear. The multimillion-peso emoluments to Reyes, Cimatu and Villanueva—and perhaps to a few others—apparently did the trick.

The stench is such that they’re all coming out of the woodwork now. Agfo, Rabusa and Lim and their PMA classmates are breaking ranks and trying to distance themselves from the offal in their midst. It would only be to the public’s benefit—and cathartic entertainment—to see the AFP’s dishonorable paragons annihilate themselves in a circular firing squad. But the more urgent business is to throw the book at them for their crimes.

Every peso pocketed by an erring general is misappropriated at the expense of an underpaid, under-equipped foot soldier. That is blood money, plain and simple.
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