2 ex-AFP chiefs, 9 more top brass face plunder raps
The Department of Justice (DOJ) on Thursday recommended the filing of plunder charges against retired Armed Forces Chiefs of Staff Diomedio Villanueva and Roy Cimatu, former comptrollers Carlos Garcia and Jacinto Ligot, and seven others accused of diverting and pocketing P2.3 billion in funds intended for troop salaries and combat needs.
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said the decision of the DOJ panel, led by Prosecutor General Claro Arellano, to pursue legal action against those behind the illegal practice was a stern warning to military officials.
The case stemmed from the revelations of former military budget officer George Rabusa, who testified in a Senate inquiry last year about the intricate pabaon (sendoff) and pasalubong (welcome gift) for outgoing and incoming AFP chiefs of staff.
“This should really be a fresh start and a clean slate for the current AFP leadership under (the Aquino) administration,” De Lima said at a news briefing.
At least three military officers on the DOJ list are in active service, including Brigadier General Benito de Leon.
Asked if the filing of the criminal charge was a warning to military officials, De Lima replied: “You can call it that. I like to believe that those in the rank-and-file and ordinary soldiers welcome this development.”
“It’s an open secret that these anomalies happen within the AFP where millions and millions of pesos were involved in the irregularities,” she added.
In a 105-page resolution, the three-member panel of prosecutors said there was a “semblance of truth” to Rabusa’s allegations that the accused had conspired with one another in pilfering from the AFP coffers.
“We are convinced that the AFP’s budget had been plundered during the period stated by the complainant,” read a portion of the DOJ resolution.
“In the instant case, complainant’s grandiose illustration of the ‘rampant irregularities in the AFP’ relative to the malversation, misuse and misappropriation of its funds, appears to have a semblance of truth,” it added.
Rabusa claimed Villanueva could have earned over P227 million from the conversion of military funds. Cimatu pocketed around P140 in his brief stay as AFP chief, he said. Cimatu, who served as special envoy to the Middle East after retiring from the military, and Villanueva have denied receiving any payoff.
Rabusa said Ligot made about P360 million while Garcia, jailed for another graft case, took some P368 million.
Others recommended to be charged were retired Major General Hilario Atendido, retired Colonels Cirilo Donato and Roy Devesa, retired Lieutenant Colonel Ernesto Paranis, J-6 accounting division chief Generoso del Castillo and former State Auditor Divina Cabrera.
“Most, if not all, of the concerned respondents had admitted to the existence of the OPB (Operating Program and Budget) as a measure of implementing lump-sum appropriations made by the Philippine Congress of the AFP budget,” the DOJ panel said.
The panel said it appeared that it was through the realignment of the (military budget), through the OPB, “that respondents were able to malverse and/or convert AFP funds from the purposes that are different from their original allotment.”
11 others absolved
However, the panel of prosecutors absolved 11 others of complicity, saying there was no sufficient evidence to include them as accused. Cleared were former AFP Chief of Staff General Efren Abu, retired Lieutenant General Gaudencio Pangilinan, retired Major Generals Epineto Logico and Ernesto Boac, Navy Captain Kenneth Paglinawan, Colonel Gilbert Gapay and Major Emerson Angulo.
The DOJ panel also dismissed the case against Colonel Robert Arevalo and former State Auditors Arturo Besana, Crisanto Gabriel and Manuel Warren.
A known close associate of Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, Boac is currently the budget officer of the Department of National Defense. Pangilinan, on the other hand, was appointed by President Benigno Aquino III as director of the Bureau of Corrections.
De Lima, however, clarified that the DOJ resolution was still subject to review by the Office of the Ombudsman, the only government agency mandated to file graft and corruption cases in the Sandiganbayan.
“Since this is a plunder case, the final say would fall on the Ombudsman, This is merely recommendatory,” the justice secretary said, adding that her department would immediately transmit the documents regarding the case to the antigraft body.
“It is up to the Ombudsman (if it wants to) adopt, modify or reverse the resolution. It’s up to the Ombudsman to decide or determine whether there is a need for another preliminary investigation,” De Lima said.
In his complaint, Rabusa accused the respondents of converting “commercial vouchers” of the Intelligence Service of the AFP (Isafp) and “J2” (Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence) into cash.
He said the money, supposedly intended for intelligence projects of the AFP, was illegally diverted for cash allocations of the Office of the Chief of Staff, monthly cash incentives of some senior military officials, administrative-related expenses and for personal expenses of some of the respondents.
Sought for comment, Rabusa said he was “both happy and sad” about the resolution of the DOJ panel.
“I’m happy because while not all of the respondents will be charged, those officials who I expected to be included (in the complaint) were there,” the whistle-blower told the Philippine Daily Inquirer over the phone.
“I’m somewhat sad because not all of them were charged. But as my lawyer said, we could still appeal the DOJ recommendation in the Ombudsman,” he said.
“But I respect the decision of the DOJ panel. At least, we know that we now have a process (of exacting accountability).” With a report from AP
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