There’s no ‘baon’ for General Oban
Belive it or not, no one is stealing anymore in the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
There is no “baon” (sendoff gift drawn from a slush fund) for General Eduardo Oban Jr., newly retired chief of staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
So claimed Oban, who made it his personal mission when he assumed office in March to shed the AFP’s image as the most corrupt agency due to the “pabaon” scandal.
“From the general headquarters down to the lowest ranking foot soldier, we worked doubly hard in our continuing efforts to reform our organization and remove every vestige of corruption in our ranks. And as I step down today, I can proudly say that we have succeeded in restrengthening unto ourselves the values of honesty and integrity,” Oban said as he formally turned over his command to the new AFP chief of staff, Lieutenant General Jessie Dellosa, on Monday.
“I can proudly say to our countrymen that there are no thieves in our Armed Forces,” Oban said in his farewell speech at the grandstand of Camp Aguinaldo.
Oban’s statement, which came in the middle of his speech, was met with silence by the audience that included a number of active and retired military officials and their families, government executives and dignitaries.
Oban was appointed AFP chief of staff on March 7 at the height of the exposé by retired Lieutenant Colonel George Rabusa, military budget officer from 2000 to 2002, about the systemic diversion of funds for military personnel for the slush fund and retirement cash gifts (pabaon) of past top officials.
Testifying before the Senate blue ribbon committee early this year, Rabusa said retired AFP Chief of Staff General Angelo Reyes received P50 million as a sendoff gift.
Rabusa said Reyes’ successors—Diomedio Villanueva and Roy Cimatu—were allocated around P160 million and P80 million each as part of the AFP’s pabaon system. Accused of skimming off military funds, Reyes later committed suicide.
Rabusa said that he and other top military officials had shared an annual payola pot of around P480 million raised from various AFP units, largely through salaries of phantom soldiers.
Padded troop strength
The whistle-blower said the AFP had been padding its actual troop strength by 20 percent through the years.
He said the Department of Budget and Management would release 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.
Oban said his office had prevented the diversion of personnel funds by filling up nearly all vacancies.
Pun on himself
The fill-up rate now stands at 99 percent compared with 96 percent when he assumed office nine months ago, according to Oban. “Mr. President, I assure you there are no ghost soldiers,” he said.
And making a pun of his name, Oban said he could take pride that he had not pocketed any pabaon.
“As chief of staff, I assumed as an Oban and I will leave still an Oban, no baon,” he said, drawing applause.
Oban thanked the President, disclosing that the AFP had so far received P18.9 billion for the military’s capability upgrade in the 18 months of the Aquino administration.
He said the amount was “more than half of what we got from our previous 15-year AFP modernization program.”
Oban also said the AFP had laid out a 18-point procurement and logistics reform agenda and strengthened its internal audit.
He also reported a successful implementation of “Bayanihan,” the new counterinsurgency plan.
Oban turned emotional in the last part of his speech as he expressed his gratitude.
“From the bottom of my heart, I thank our President for believing in me and inspiring me to move on especially during those dark moments when lives of our soldiers were lost in the field,” Oban said.
He was alluding to the October 18 massacre of 19 Army elite troops by Moro rebels in Al-Barka, Basilan province.
“As your chief of staff, these losses are as personal to me as they are to the families of our fallen soldiers,” he added.
To all military personnel and civilian employees he said: “I want to be with you only two times, now and forever. I will not miss you as I go because you are inscribed in my heart,” drawing chuckles from the audience.
Oban then disclosed what he was not able to do when he was the head of the 120,000-strong military: to take his wife and 10-year-old son to a fast-food chain.
“To the love of my life Toton and my son Tobit, after I sign my relinquishment orders, I am all yours. I want us to do something which we were not able to do when I was the chief of staff, to eat at Jollibee,” he said to the audience’s laughter and applause.
During the testimonial review, Oban shunned riding a military vehicle and walked instead on the parade grounds when he inspected the troops for the last time.
Where an official is supposed to closely look at his troops’ condition, the ceremonial inspection of troops has become perfunctory through the years since the honored official is allowed to ride a slow-moving vehicle.
Lieutenant General Arturo Ortiz also shunned riding a military vehicle during the inspection of troops when he retired in November as Army commanding general.
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