MANILA, Philippines?A retired lieutenant colonel on Thursday made a surprise appearance at the Senate and disclosed how he and his ex-bosses allegedly amassed wealth, with a large portion of the loot taken from soldiers? salaries.
Seated on a wheelchair following a stroke, George Rabusa dropped a bombshell: that Angelo Reyes, a former Armed Forces chief of staff, received a send-off gift (?pabaon?) of ?not less than? P50 million when he retired in 2001.
Rabusa said he personally delivered the cash to the ?White House,? Reyes? then quarters at Camp Aguinaldo, that year. He said he was accompanied by the then military comptroller, Lt. Gen. Jacinto Ligot.
?We had to convert [the money] to dollars because it was very bulky,? Rabusa said during the Senate blue ribbon committee?s initial hearing on the plea bargain between government prosecutors and ex-military comptroller Carlos Garcia.
On top of the purported ?pabaon,? Reyes, who later became defense secretary, allegedly received a monthly take of at least P5 million?or around P100 million in his 20 months as AFP chief of staff. Rabusa said he and Ligot made the monthly deliveries.
Rabusa said Reyes? office also received another P5 million monthly, but added that the amount was spent for office needs and was not necessarily pocketed by Reyes.
He said the distribution of hefty amounts to top military officials was a ?tradition? in the AFP. ?It was there when we got there. We inherited it from those who came before us,? he said.
He added that this tradition had also benefited two other AFP chiefs of staff, Diomedio Villanueva and Roy Cimatu, who allegedly each received around P10 million as a ?start-up? fund.
?As soon as they assumed office, they already asked to be given,? he claimed.
Reyes did not vehemently deny Rabusa?s claims, saying only: ?I cannot remember accepting? the P50-million ?pabaon.?
Ligot also claimed?to the senators? disbelief?that he could not remember accompanying Rabusa to deliver the money to Reyes.
?I cannot recall going there every month. We go there occasionally?? he said.
Sen. Jinggoy Estrada threatened to have Ligot locked up in one of the Senate rooms until he told the truth. ?I?m willing to wait until Monday until you remember,? Estrada said.
Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile chided Ligot, saying incidents like the purported cash deliveries ?are not forgettable.? He told Ligot: ?Don?t press your luck.?
It was Estrada who brought in Rabusa as a surprise witness in the blue ribbon committee?s inquiry.
Rabusa admitted that he himself had pocketed amounts from military funds, but said he was getting only some P500,000. He was earlier accused of amassing some P50 million in assets.
?I had the discretion to handle cash and I cannot be a hypocrite [to say] that I wasn?t getting anything from that,? he said.
Rabusa said that while serving under Garcia, he and his boss ?converted? almost P1 billion from 2001 to 2002.
?Once the money was converted, he just told me to give it to him. I didn?t know what happened next,? he said.
By conversion, Rabusa meant the purported practice in the general military headquarters of pooling amounts for distribution to ranking officials, including recipients outside the AFP.
The money is taken mainly from the ?provisions for command-directed activities? or PCDA fund, and ?savings? from the personnel services budget of the military.
Reading from a list provided by Rabusa, Estrada identified other purported beneficiaries of the PCDA fund: the office of the vice chief of staff (P1.5 million plus P300,000), deputy chief of staff (P1.5 million), and the secretary of the joint staff (P1 million).
Also in the list were the senior military aide of then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, military auditor, House legislative officer, retired generals, defense press corps, surgeon general, chief nurse, janitors and gardeners.
Sources of funds
Rabusa said the PCDA fund was collected from the joint staff offices. He said these offices usually came up short and, thus, collections had to be made from the major services?the Army, Navy, and Air Force?and the Philippine Military Academy, Presidential Security Group and AFP Medical Center.
The personnel services budget also became a source of the purported loot when Rabusa et al. would collect allocations for a particular troop ceiling.
Per Rabusa?s explanation, this happened because the Department of Budget and Management released a fund for, say, 120,000 troops when the AFP actually had only 100,000. The salary for the 20,000 allegedly became the source of additional funds for military officials.
Rabusa?s claims are ?raw information? that ?authorities? need to verify, according to Brig. Gen. Jose Mabanta, the AFP spokesperson.
When asked by reporters in Camp Aguinaldo if he was surprised by Rabusa?s allegations, Mabanta said: ?Not really.?
?It?s up to him. Everyone can say what he [wants]. But these are raw information which I think needs to be further verified. It?s really up to the authorities to find out its veracity and truthfulness.?
When asked if the military leadership would investigate past AFP chiefs of staff regarding the purported ?send-off? money, Mabanta said they would wait for developments as a result of Rabusa?s claims.
He said any abuse of military funds in the past should be the subject of ?further investigation,? in which the AFP was willing to cooperate.
He added that the AFP would ?provide whatever is requested from us by competent authorities.?
Mabanta also said that since the plunder case of Garcia came to light, the military leadership had adopted measures to make the AFP?s financial situation more transparent.
Check and balance
?Ever since this exposé, there have been a lot of things happening in the office of the comptroller. From a very big office, it was divided into smaller offices. One of the intentions of this [move] was to show that there is check and balance,? Mabanta said.
He said that with the breaking up of the office of the comptroller, no one office could decide on ?financial issues? related to military funds.
?There is a policymaking body and then somebody will be the implementor [of the policies]. In other words, check and balance within offices,? he said.
Mabanta said the new system would not allow a repeat of the Garcia case.
He said a similar incident would not happen anymore ?because of the innovations undertaken after [the plunder case] came out in the open.? With a report from Alcuin Papa