MANILA, Philippines?Roy Cimatu on Friday admitted that he had indeed received a pabaon (sendoff gift) when he bowed out as chief of staff of the Armed Forces, but said it did not come in cold cash as claimed by whistle-blower George Rabusa.
Appearing for the first time at the inquiry of the Senate blue ribbon committee, Cimatu said what he considered ?priceless? farewell presents were the 40 medals and citations he received in his 37-year military career. He vehemently denied Rabusa?s claim that he received at least P80 million during his four-month stint as AFP chief.
Cimatu is now the special envoy to the Middle East.
?For most of my life, I?ve been a soldier of the republic. I?m proud of my calling and proud of the Armed Forces institution,? he said, reading a prepared statement. ?I categorically deny that I received any funds from anybody in the Armed Forces for my personal use or aggrandizement.?
Cimatu said that despite allegations of corruption, the AFP was ?the most disciplined and organized? state agency because it had its own systems, rules and procedures that ?preclude instances of large-scale graft and corruption? if followed to the letter.
?It is true that I have a pabaon. But this is not that P80 million that I allegedly received. This is the box full of 40 medals I received,? he said, presenting a photograph of his medals.
He added: ?These medals are drenched with blood, sweat and tears. I earned these in action, in the fields of battle ? I will never trade them for all the riches of the world.
?These are priceless and I shall not allow anybody to debase these for whatever reason.?
?Modest? retirement pay
In his own statement, former AFP chief Diomedio Villanueva also denied Rabusa?s allegations, saying the P160-million pabaon that he had supposedly received was ?mind-boggling.?
Villanueva said he did not have direct financial dealings with Rabusa when he was the AFP chief because the latter served as his budget officer for only one and a half months.
?I deny the claims that I received a pasalubong or welcome gift when I assumed my duties as AFP chief. Likewise I deny receiving pabaon ? much less in the mind-boggling amount of P160 million when I retired,? Villanueva said.
He said what he got when he stepped down as military chief was his ?modest retirement pay.?
?With the help of my children, this has allowed me to live a modest, albeit comfortable, life,? he added.
Villanueva also said that in his 14-month term as AFP chief, he did not receive any complaint regarding misuse of funds on the purchase of a $2.2-million unmanned aerial vehicle.
As for the alleged anomalies in the disbursement of funds from the United Nations (UN), he said he was ?not even aware that the AFP supposedly received funds from the UN.?
?As far as I know, during my term, UN funds were remitted to the Philippine government through the Department of Foreign Affairs. Hence, I am not aware how the said funds were disbursed,? he said.
During the hearing, the senators also quizzed Brig. Gen. Benito de Leon, who was a lieutenant colonel when he served as Cimatu?s executive assistant.
De Leon admitted receiving millions of pesos from Rabusa, then the military budget officer, but insisted that it was done aboveboard.
Cimatu also admitted that he knew De Leon had accepted P10 million in cash advance, but said the money was used ?according to existing procedures.?
?All the documents are in order. The money was not for me, [but] for budgetary support for our operations,? Cimatu said.
De Leon said Rabusa gave him P10 million in cash ?several times? in 2002 when he was Cimatu?s executive assistant.
In his previous testimony at the Senate, Rabusa referred to executive assistants of senior military officials as ?bagmen,? or persons who receive a monthly payola from the AFP comptrollership office.
But De Leon said in his opening statement on Friday to the committee: ?I categorically deny that General Roy Cimatu had received this so-called pabaon or pasalubong (welcome gift).?
For the boys
But Rabusa said the statement of De Leon, his 1981 ?mistah? (classmate) at the Philippine Military Academy, was ?a total lie.?
?I know you are my mistah, so please,? he told De Leon.
According to Rabusa, De Leon asked him then to provide an additional P10 million on top of the monthly P5 million that Cimatu?s office was regularly receiving.
Rabusa?s statement was corroborated by his former deputy, Col. Antonio Ramon Lim.
Replying to questions from Sen. Frank Drilon, De Leon admitted that he was not an ?accountable officer? despite the millions of pesos in public funds that he had been receiving.
Rabusa also disclosed that some military officers got at least P200,000 in kickback from the cash bond that the AFP gave a customs official for the purchase of the unmanned aerial vehicle.
He said Navy Capt. Kenneth Paglinawan, the then finance officer of the Intelligence service of the AFP, had asked him if the latter could keep a portion of the P2-million cash bond for the spy gadget.
?Paglinawan was asking if I could give him [something] ?for the boys? since they had a hard time transporting the UAV to Zamboanga,? Rabusa said.
But Paglinawan denied this, informing the senators that he had actually accepted P11.5 million from Rabusa, which he later gave to a customs official as ordered.
Strength in details
Despite the ?unison denials? of the former AFP chiefs, Guingona said Rabusa?s testimony remained credible and strong, as shown by the ?details? of each accusation he made.
?Anybody can just issue a denial. But Rabusa?s details on where he was sitting during his meetings were tell-tale signs of the truth. The less detail, the less credible,? Guingona told reporters.
After the hearing, the wheelchair-bound Rabusa was approached by a group of nuns from the Association of Major Religious Superiors in the Philippines who promised to support him in exposing alleged misdeeds in the military.
One nun handed a small crucifix to Rabusa and told him: ?We will pray for your safety.?
?Thank you,? Rabusa said as he put the religious item in his wallet.
People don?t admit guilt
Rabusa also thanked former state auditor Heidi Mendoza for coming out to support his claims about corruption in the AFP.
He said he had anticipated that Cimatu and Villanueva would deny his testimony.
?Well, you don?t really expect a person to admit guilt. I expected that from them,? he said, adding:
?What I did not expect was the decision of my mistah to tell lies and deny what he knows.?