MANILA, Philippines?The windfall from a military slush fund benefited some lawmakers, including former Surigao del Sur Rep. Prospero Pichay who allegedly received P500,000 on at least three occasions, whistle-blower George Rabusa said at a Senate hearing Monday.
Under questioning from Sen. Teofisto Guingona III, Rabusa said Pichay, just like some Commission on Audit auditors and senior military officials, had received huge sums from the ?conversion? of military funds.
Accompanied by his lawyer Noel Malaya, Rabusa was at first hesitant to name congressmen who allegedly accepted money from the military.
But when Guingona assured him that he could name the lawmakers, the former military budget officer said in Filipino: ?I remember Congressman Pichay.?
Asked to elaborate, Rabusa said: ?Every time Pichay visited the office of the chief of staff, General (Carlos) Garcia, who was then my boss, would ask me to prepare P500,000 cash because Pichay was already waiting,? Rabusa replied, eliciting murmurs from the audience.
Rabusa continued: ?Immediately, I would ask my assistant to help me prepare the P500,000.?
Sen. Jinggoy Estrada, who facilitated Rabusa?s appearance as witness at the Senate inquiry into the plea bargain between government prosecutors and Garcia, a former military comptroller, asked Rabusa why the military would provide money to Pichay.
?I don?t know. If I?m ordered to prepare the money, I would just do what I?m told because my immediate boss then was (Major) General Garcia,? Rabusa said.
Help in budget hearing
Pressed to elaborate, Rabusa said Pichay was ?helping? the Armed Forces to hurdle the budget hearing in the House of Representatives since the lawmaker was then the chair of the House committee on national defense.
?He was just helping us defend our budget. I think that?s the correct word,? he told Sen. Francis Escudero.
Rabusa said Pichay had received P500,000 in cash on at least three occasions during the term of then Armed Forces Chief of Staff Gen. Diomedio Villanueva.
Asked if some senators also received money, the whistle-blower said there was none.
As in the previous proceedings, Garcia claimed he could not ?recall? meeting ?a certain Congressman Pichay.?
Pichay, who ran for senator in 2007 and lost, said that he did not get funds from the military and that he was keen on facing his accuser in the Senate.
?I categorically deny that I received any funds from the AFP when I was a member of the House,? Pichay said.
He said it was not the defense committee chair who defended the military?s budget in the House as claimed by Rabusa but the vice chair of the appropriations committee.
Pichay, now the chair of the Local Water Utilities Administration, admitted to going to the AFP headquarters once but only to attend a command conference.
?In the hierarchy of the government bureaucracy, the Armed Forces chief of staff is equivalent to a mere director. So, why will I go there (to Villanueva?s office), I will just call him,? Pichay said in explaining why he could not have gone to the office of Villanueva.
?He?s a liar ? I believed his exposés until he implicated me,? Pichay said, adding that Rabusa?s entire testimony in the Senate may be put in jeopardy by the lies he was saying against him.
Pichay said he had asked his lawyers to study what case he could file against Rabusa, noting that he could sue the latter for libel, slander or even for giving false testimony.
Pichay must do more than just issue a mere denial, however, other lawmakers said.
?If it is true, then the former representative should be made to explain his side. What is important is that Congress should get to the bottom of this issue,? Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Neri Colmenares said in a statement.
The House defense committee chair, Muntinlupa Rep. Rodolfo Biazon, said Pichay should be allowed to speak in the Senate to end speculation on whether Rabusa?s accusations were true.
?We have to deal with this individually. This (House members receiving military funds) is not an established practice,? said Biazon, a former Armed Forces chief of staff.
Guingona said the Senate blue ribbon committee would invite Pichay to its next hearing.
?Yes, of course. Because the principle is when a person is accused, you have to give that person the chance to answer. It would be inappropriate not to invite him,? Guingona told the Inquirer when asked if the committee would summon Pichay to appear before the committee.