The recommendation to file plunder charges against several former military officers for the misuse of P2.3 billion in public funds is still pending in the Office of the Ombudsman, which has jurisdiction over the prosecution of graft and plunder cases in the Sandiganbayan.
A Department of Justice (DOJ) panel made the recommendation in January 2012, based on the complaint filed by Lt. Col. George Rabusa, a former military budget officer who hogged the headlines in 2011 for his revelations on the military practice of giving retiring senior officers with multimillion-peso “pabaon” (sendoff gift).
In a resolution, the panel recommended plunder charges against retired Armed Forces Chiefs of Staff Generals Diomedio Villanueva and Roy Cimatu, and former AFP comptrollers Maj. Gen. Carlos Garcia and Lt. Gen. Jacinto Ligot for allegedly pilfering military funds.
Included in the charges were retired Maj. Gen. Hilario Atendido, retired Colonels Cirilo Donato and Roy Devesa, retired Lt. Col. Ernesto Paranis, J-6 accounting division chief Generoso del Castillo and former state auditor Divina Cabrera.
‘Semblance of truth’
Rabusa’s “grandiose illustration of the ‘rampant irregularities in the AFP relative to the malversation, misuse and misappropriation of its funds appears to have a semblance of truth,” the DOJ panel said.
In his complaint filed in the DOJ in April 2011, Rabusa cited personal knowledge of irregularities by members of the so-called “comptrollership mafia.”
He served as budget officer of the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff (ODCS) for Intelligence or J2 from 1994 to 1998, and of the ODCS for Comptrollership or J6 from 2000 to 2002.
Rabusa said key AFP officials colluded to carry out a scheme of converting commercial vouchers into cash for unofficial expenditures; incorporating discretionary funds into the military budget; and converting military funds through procurement offices.
Rabusa’s disclosure stemmed from his testimony in a January 2011 Senate blue ribbon inquiry into the controversial plea bargain deal between special prosecutors and ex-comptroller Garcia for the latter’s plunder case.
In the inquiry, Rabusa said that he had pocketed money and that he had helped his former boss, Garcia, “convert” almost P1 billion from 2001 to 2002 for distribution to ranking officers and other recipients outside the AFP.
Rabusa also claimed that when Gen. Angelo Reyes retired as AFP chief of staff in 2001, he received a total of P150 million in military funds.
Rabusa also claimed that by the time Villanueva and Cimatu retired the two took home a total of P227.4 million and P110 million, respectively. Former AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Efren Abu also benefited from spurious transactions, according to Rabusa.
Reyes denied the allegations against him and filed graft charges against Rabusa in the Office of the Ombudsman.
Appearing before the Senate inquiry, Cimatu denied Rabusa’s claims, saying his only pabaon were the 40 medals and citations he received in his 37-year military career.
In a statement, Villanueva described Rabusa’s allegations as “mind-boggling,” adding that he only got a “modest retirement pay” when he stepped down from office.
At the height of the controversy, Reyes committed suicide on Feb. 8, 2011.
Ligots’ unexplained assets
In a succeeding hearing, Rabusa said senior officers had a slush fund of P20 million for their personal and operational use. The fund was replenished by allocations skimmed off the salaries and operational expenses of military units.
Also brought up in the inquiry were the unexplained assets of Ligot and his wife, Erlinda, in the country and in the United States.
The Senate hearings prompted the Bureau of Internal Revenue to file multimillion-peso tax evasion complaints against Garcia and Ligot, and their wives, in March 2011.
For his complaint, Rabusa named 22 respondents and presented to the DOJ over 20 folders containing pieces of evidence, such as receipts, checks and various documents to prove how military funds were misused. He described his case as “airtight.”
But for lack of sufficient evidence, the DOJ cleared 11 of the respondents: Abu, retired Lt. Gen. Gaudencio Pangilinan, retired Major Generals Epineto Logico and Ernesto Boac, Navy Capt. Kenneth Paglinawan, Col. Gilbert Gapay and Maj. Emerson Angulo.
Also absolved were Col. Robert Arevalo and former state auditors Arturo Besana, Crisanto Gabriel and Manuel Warren.
Challenging the panel’s recommendations, Cimatu’s camp said that Rabusa’s complaint was based mainly on spurious documents and that it was his cohorts and him who misused military funds.
Following his exoneration, Besana filed a plunder complaint against Rabusa in the Office of the Ombudsman, citing Rabusa’s own admission that he committed various offenses involving “billions of pesos.”—Inquirer Research
Sources: Inquirer Archives; Department of Justice