‘Strike 2 vs anticorruption drive’By Nikko Dizon
Philippine Daily Inquirer
It’s strike two against the government’s anticorruption efforts.
After entering into a plea bargain with former military comptroller Maj. Gen. Carlos Garcia, which was upheld by the Sandiganbayan, the Office of the Ombudsman dismissed the plunder complaint earlier filed by retired Army Col. George Rabusa against former military generals and other ranking officers.
Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales then ordered a special panel of prosecutors to determine if there was probable cause against them for other crimes.
But in a second memorandum submitted to Morales on Aug. 10, 2012, the six-member panel said it had also found “no probable cause to warrant the filing of other criminal charges” against the respondents, who included retired Armed Forces chiefs of staff Generals Diomedio Villanueva, Roy Cimatu and Efren Abu, Garcia and his deputy, retired Maj. Gen. Jacinto Ligot.
Supporters of Rabusa like the Association of Major Religious Superiors (AMRSP) and the militant group Bayan both slammed the Ombudsman resolution and said that it was time once again for civil society groups to come together and “make noise” against corruption.
“This is a great blow to the fight of President Aquino against corruption. Nakakadismaya talaga (It’s really disappointing),” AMRSP’s Sr. Mary John Mananzan told the Inquirer by phone on Saturday.
“I think we have to make noise among civil society. I’ve spoken to groups who said they were very dismayed by this and they want to bring out (their frustration),” she said.
Bayan’s Renato Reyes said the Ombudsman resolution was “strike two” against Mr. Aquino after the Sandiganbayan upheld the plea bargain that Garcia had entered into with the Ombudsman.
“This is a major setback in efforts to hold corrupt AFP officials accountable,” said Reyes in a statement.
“Millions of pesos were changing hands but still that doesn’t constitute evidence? The Ombudsman seems to find nothing odd about hundreds of millions of pesos finding its way to the generals, even saying that there was no proof that the money came from public funds,” Reyes said, calling the resolution “outrageous.”
Reyes also noted it was ironic that Mr. Aquino had wanted former Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez removed from her post for her alleged failure to go after corrupt government officials. After initially fighting off an impeachment complaint, Gutierrez resigned.
The President appointed Carpio Morales, who had retired as a Supreme Court associate justice.
Both Mananzan and Reyes said they feared the culture of impunity would continue to thrive with the Ombudsman resolution.
Sad for whistle-blowers
Mananzan added that she felt sad for whistle-blowers like Rabusa and Rodolfo Lozada Jr., who implicated top officials of the Arroyo administration in the multimillion-dollar NBN-ZTE broadband deal.
The Inquirer obtained copies of the 71-page first memorandum dated March 8, 2012, and the 52-page second memorandum by the Ombudsman panel dated Aug. 10, 2012.
Both were approved by Carpio Morales in 2012, but the documents were released only on April 4.
In its second memorandum, the Ombudsman panel said the respondents could not be charged with malversation “absent a showing that they misappropriated public funds or allowed another person to misappropriate the same.”
While Rabusa claimed he gave money to the respondents, the panel said “the source of the money is not supported by documentary evidence which would possibly show that the money came from converted funds.”
The respondents could not be charged with technical malversation as well because, according to the panel, there was no evidence “to show that the funds allegedly used by herein respondents were earmarked for a public purpose and were used for another public purpose.”
No undue injury
Finally, the panel said the respondents could also not be charged with violation of antigraft laws “without any proof that the government or any person sustained undue injury due to their alleged receipt of converted funds.”
Carpio Morales approved the second memorandum on Aug. 30, 2012.
In dismissing the plunder charges in its first memorandum, the Ombudsman panel said Rabusa had failed to show solid evidence to support his allegation that Villanueva, Cimatu and Abu received millions of pesos in “pasalubong” and “pabaon” when they assumed office and when they retired as military chiefs of staff.
Among those Rabusa also implicated in his explosive expose in 2011 was former AFP chief of staff and Defense Secretary Angelo Reyes, who took his own life days after appearing in a Senate investigation.
The panel also said there was no sufficient proof of the crime of plunder against the other military officers and civilian personnel.
Mananzan said it took them a week to photocopy and bind the documentary evidence Rabusa had submitted to the Department of Justice due to its sheer volume.
She was aghast that the Ombudsman panel decided that these were not sufficient to prove Rabusa’s plunder complaint against the military officers.