MANILA, Philippines?In lining his pockets, then military comptroller Carlos Garcia could not have acted alone and was apparently tolerated by his superiors in the Armed Forces, lawmakers said Thursday.
Parañaque Rep. Roilo Golez did not name names in an interview with Radyo Inquirer, but he was apparently alluding to the five AFP chiefs of staff, all under Defense Secretary Angelo Reyes, and under whom Garcia worked from 2001 to 2003.
In a phone interview with the newspaper, Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago said Garcia was a ?fall guy? who should be compelled to name the military officials who protected him while he was amassing more than P300 million from state coffers.
?[He] is really a clear example of a fall guy. He could not have amassed such wealth unless he had the protection of a cabal of military officials in the defense department,? Santiago said.
Golez said that like Garcia, another military comptroller was also investigated by the Ombudsman for alleged ill-gotten wealth. ?These two came in succession, and the one in charge then was either a chief of staff or secretary of national defense. We know the person,? he said in a mix of Filipino and English.
The other military comptroller Golez was referring to was retired Maj. Gen. Jacinto Ligot, who was found to have acquired a house in Buena Park, California, and a condo unit at the Essensa in The Fort, Taguig City, with a monthly salary of less than P40,000.
Ligot was the military comptroller when Reyes was AFP chief of staff from 1999 to 2001. He was replaced by Garcia in 2001.
Golez said the House of Representatives would apply pressure on the Office of the Ombudsman and Department of Justice to have other military higher-ups of that period investigated for ?playing blind.?
?If the AFP leadership were alert enough, they could have placed somebody with a very sensitive position like Garcia under close scrutiny, and for sure they would have already seen his anomalous lifestyle,? Golez said.
?If [his] superiors were competent enough, these things would not have escaped them. You cannot amass such enormous wealth without being detected. So this means they were either playing blind or in cahoots all along,? the congressman said.
Golez also cited the Ombudsman?s inquiry into the lifestyle of a wife of a ranking official.
He was apparently referring to Reyes? wife, Teresita, who was asked to explain after Bureau of Immigration records showed her leaving the country 48 times from 1993 to 2004.
Garcia has entered into a plea bargain with state prosecutors to evade a plunder case in the Sandiganbayan anti-graft court. Plunder is a crime punishable with life imprisonment.
He is out on bail after pleading guilty to the lesser offenses of bribery and money laundering.
The retired major general is accused of amassing funds, landholdings and pieces of property totaling P303 million, an amount disproportionate to his family?s income of P3.27 million as of December 2004.
Under the plea bargain, he is obliged to surrender assets totaling only P135 million to the government.
?Person of interest?
Senator Santiago, an international law expert whose brother, retired Lt. Gen. Benjamin Defensor, served as AFP chief of staff during the Arroyo administration, said Garcia should be made to ?cooperate in uncovering a conspiracy.?
?In the United States, that is called a person of interest. Unless the suspect promises to reveal everything, he should not be admitted to a plea bargain,? Santiago said.
?He should tell who these people are; otherwise, he should be meted the highest penalty under the law,? she said.
To get Garcia to talk, ?we should press the screws and attach all his properties because right now he?s free to dispose any of his properties and he doesn?t feel the pinch,? the senator said.
She said that for instance, ?if he had forged documents, senior officials would have known.?
?This is a fall guy situation ... where we have a foot soldier who is willing to take criminal liability imposed on a Mafia don. His family is protected and he?s left to his own devices, but has much money left,? she said.
?71 PMA grad
Garcia, a 1971 graduate of the Philippine Military Academy, spent years in the logistics and the engineering corps, an assignment that exposed him to multimillion-peso funds for the construction of roads, bridges, houses, school buildings and even hospitals for the military as well as the civilian government.
He reached the apex of his career in the engineering corps when he served as chief of engineers from May 29, 2000, to May 27, 2001, during the term of General Reyes.
A day later, on May 28, 2001, Gen. Diomedio Villanueva, the newly named AFP chief of staff and known Reyes protégé, appointed him military comptroller with a salary of P37,000.
Then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo also appointed Reyes as secretary of national defense.
Garcia would serve four other AFP chiefs of staff who served short terms under Arroyo?s ?revolving door? policy. The procession of generals who followed Villanueva included Generals Roy Cimatu, Benjamin Defensor and Dionisio Santiago.
Gen. Narciso Abaya was the AFP chief of staff when US authorities caught two of Garcia?s three sons sneaking $100,000 into San Francisco in December 2003.
But instead of filing charges against Garcia, Abaya merely transferred him to another unit.
But Garcia?s former budget officer, Col. George Rabusa, was investigated for having acquired ill-gotten wealth estimated at P50 million.
The Ombudsman also investigated the lifestyles of 10 generals and colonels and their wives.
?Justice on a left turn?
Santiago, a former judge and immigration commissioner, said she found it ?alarming that a tribunal of justice should give its approval to a plea bargain without studying the circumstances.?
?A person can?t agree to give back P135 million?a stupendous sum for an ordinary person?unless he has very much more,? she said.
Santiago said Garcia?s plea bargain should be ?canceled and struck from the record.?
?A plea bargain to be validated by the court?that is an invitation to all corrupt officials in the DND (Department of National Defense) to find a fall guy take the rap for them,? she said, adding:
?This is a horrendous example of the justice system taking a left turn.?
Santiago also said that if, for the sake of argument, the Sandiganbayan had not yet approved the plea bargain, it should ?stop dead in its tracks? and reexamine US jurisprudence on plea bargaining.
She said the state did not stand to benefit from the plea bargain with Garcia.
?If there?s a plea bargain, not only does the accused benefit from it, but the state as well. It can?t be win-lose; it should be win-win for the accused and the state,? she said.
In the first place, she said, the state prosecutors should not have negotiated a plea bargain with Garcia who was facing the heinous crime of plunder.
?He?s buying expensive property in the US. What can be more convincing? And then you come down and negotiate with the accused. It has to be an appeal from the accused. It can?t be a negotiation of equals. What do we gain from this plea bargain?? she said.
But Santiago said there were options left for the government to salvage the situation.
She agreed with the Office of the Solicitor General?s move to intervene in the case, saying the Sandiganbayan could allow the OSG to be a party to the case.
Asked about the government?s option should the Sandiganbayan approve the agreement, she said: ?You can go to the Supreme Court and question the validity of such an agreement, and cite grave abuse of discretion or total lack of discretion.?
Prosecutors had said there was weak evidence against Garcia.
On Thursday, Deputy Special Prosecutor Jesus Micael reiterated to Radyo Inquirer that without the testimony of a whistle-blower, it would be difficult to pin down Garcia for plunder.
He said it was not enough that Garcia?s wife Clarita had admitted that her husband accepted bribes from military suppliers because she could not be considered a witness against him.
?Even if someone?even the accused himself?had stated verbally or in writing that bribes were given, we still need to establish who exactly gave them, how, and why they were given,? Micael said.
He said he was ready to submit to a proposed House inquiry into the plea bargain.
But he issued a reminder to the House to respect the ?constitutional independence? of his agency, the Office of the Ombudsman. With reports from Dona Dominguez and Fe Zamora of Radyo Inquirer