MANILA, Philippines?Can a general?s wife purchase houses in the United States and travel 42 times abroad without the husband knowing it?
Sen. Jinggoy Estrada Monday confronted a former military comptroller, retired Lt. Gen. Jacinto Ligot, over the questionable activities of his wife?Erlinda Yambao Ligot?as part of the Senate investigation of corruption in the military.
At the blue ribbon committee hearing, Estrada presented pictures of two houses in California allegedly under the name of Erlinda. In all, the senator alleged that the Ligots owned eight pieces of real estate in the United States.
Besides the houses, Estrada said he had documents showing that Erlinda traveled abroad 42 times from 1993 to 2004.
But what particularly piqued the senator?s interest were the 13 trips she purportedly took with Teresita Reyes, wife of then Armed Forces Chief of Staff Gen. Angelo Reyes, from 1999 to 2004.
Reyes is accused of pocketing P50 million in send-off gift (pabaon) when he retired in 2001 after 20 months in office, on top of a P5-million monthly allocation during his term. He denied the allegations.
Retired Lt. Col. George Rabusa, a military budget officer from 2000 to 2002, said he used to hand out shopping money whenever the wife of Reyes traveled in the country and abroad. He said airfare and payment for accommodations were shouldered by the Office of the Chief of Staff.
?The money coming from me was only for shopping,? Rabusa told senators, recalling that he once gave the generals? wives $10,000 in pocket money.
Sen. Teofisto Guingona III, chair of the blue ribbon committee, said Erlinda would be summoned to the next hearing on Feb. 17.
Guingona said a subpoena would be issued to Reyes to compel the former AFP chief of staff to show up. The committee also deferred a decision on the motions to cite Reyes and his lawyer, and retired military comptroller Carlos Garcia for contempt.
Ligot, the military comptroller when Reyes was the chief of staff, denied any knowledge of his wife?s travels, much to the disbelief of senators. At one point, he said his wife might have kept her trips ?secret.?
?And what might have been her reason for keeping them secret?? Estrada asked him in Filipino. ?Even our pet dogs or cats, when they go astray, we look for them. What more if it?s your wife missing??
Erlinda owns a house at 7102 Stanton Avenue, Buena Park, California, according to Estrada. He said Ligot?s wife bought the property in cash for $183,868 in 2002.
The second property is at 1240 South Cabernet Circle in Anaheim, California, which was worth $504,000 when Ligot?s wife allegedly bought it on Dec. 23, 2003. Estrada said she paid a portion in cash and sought a loan for the remainder of the acquisition cost.
Estrada told Ligot that he had gotten word that Erlinda was used as a ?dummy? for the retired general, who allegedly owned the Buena Park property. He said he was also told that the wife was fronting for Teresita Reyes as the real owner of the Anaheim house.
?I would like to invoke my right against self-incrimination,? Ligot replied, saying the houses and travels were the subject of a pending case against him in the Sandiganbayan anti-graft court.
Ligot said he learned about the houses only after they were included in the charges in the anti-graft court. He recalled asking his wife in Filipino: ?What happened??
When shown pictures of the houses, the former military comptroller said it was the first time he saw them.
Why Los Angeles?
In the 13 times that Erlinda and Teresita traveled together in five years, a seeming destination of choice was Los Angeles.
Bureau of Immigration records made available during the hearing showed that the two wives visited LA seven times, San Francisco and Singapore twice each, and Hong Kong on six occasions.
?What is there in Los Angeles, if I may ask?? Estrada asked, to which Ligot again invoked his right against self-incrimination.
The first travel was to San Francisco on Philippine Airlines flight PR104 on Sept. 4, 1999. The wives returned three months later on Dec. 4 from Kuwait.
?When your wife was away for a month, you didn?t look for her? Didn?t you care that she was missing, that you just found out that she would not be beside you when you got home?? Estrada asked Ligot.
Rabusa said the amount of shopping money he gave to Reyes? wife depended on the trip and the size of the entourage. He said a foreign trip could include a party of more than five people, usually composed of wives of other military officials and civilian friends.
Rabusa said Teresita once asked to meet him in Los Angeles in one of those trips and requested an ?additional allowance.? He said he gave her ?not less than $5,000.?
Ligot said he never had to give pocket money to his wife in her travels because he supposedly gave her his entire salary throughout his military career. ?She?s the bank in our relationship,? he said.
Ligot said his wife?s frequent travels could have been financed by their relatives in the United States.
Estrada told him: ?If she traveled 42 times and she used your salary, it would not have sufficed even for plane tickets.?