Monday, October 18, 2004

On the Corruption in the AFP: Worse than “Terrorists”

by Carol Pagaduan-Araullo
Business World/15-16 October 2004

The story about how the son of a Philippine general, earning less than P40,000 a month, was caught by US custom’s officials carrying a substantial amount of undeclared US dollars; how the general’s wife mindlessly confessed to her husband’s shenanigans as AFP comptroller in amassing his unexplained wealth; how the AFP top brass tried to hush-hush this scandal by merely transferring the involved general to another “less sensitive” post; and how the Commander-in-Chief, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, was irked that too many “detailed” questions are being asked of her about this latest corruption case when she is concerned with weightier matters of state – all this proves once more that the rot of avarice, dishonesty, abuse of authority and disdain for the public good have infiltrated government to its very core.

The case of Major General Carlos Garcia is still unraveling even as this column is being written but several points stand out. Garcia couldn’t have done it alone and specially not without the toleration or connivance of his superiors. The mere fact that the position of comptroller is a position of confidence that is directly under the supervision of the AFP Chief-of-staff General Narciso Abaya, makes the latter immediately culpable.

General Abaya should resign if he has any sense of honor. In Japan, public officials have committed hara kiri for much lesser offenses. Since Garcia served under several AFP chiefs including former Defense Secretary and now DILG head General Angelo Reyes (he too with the unexplained wealth that sparked the Oakwood mutiny), his is clearly not an isolated case. Which is why we are not surprised at the kid gloves treatment of Garcia, who by all accounts, is liable for the heinous crime of plunder several times over. It must be because if he goes down, he is liable to take others, the bigger fish, down with him unless he is assured that he will somehow be protected by his cohorts in crime and will be allowed to get away with his loot when the hue and cry has died down. Worse, the official cover-up started even before the news broke out in the papers. It has been months since the authorities learned about what happened to Garcia’s son and his wife’s inadvertent confession to US authorities in a desperate bid to recover the confiscated $100,000.

The lame explanations of the AFP top brass about why they failed to move against the suspect officer, at least to investigate further and secure vital evidence like the P19 million pesos he withdrew from his AFSLA account, just doesn’t wash.

The initial vagueness and dismissive statements to the press by Malacañang officials fueled rather than doused speculation that something big was about to be exposed and that damage control efforts were in high gear. Too bad for the AFP and Mrs. Arroyo, they can’t dismiss this as the handiwork of the usual suspects – the so-called Left and Right “destabilizers”. The can of worms that is the systemic corruption inside the military establishment has been opened for all to see and no amount of manufactured rumors about another coup-in-the-making nor Mrs. Arroyo’s legendary “taray” will put the lid back on.

The general public is justifiably repelled and angered by this latest corruption scandal whose magnitude and reach has yet to be fully exposed. Yet there are more dire implications to this country’s future than have so far been the subject of Congressional investigations, newspaper editorials and investigative reports. As former Army Captain Rene Jarque, who joined two coup attempts 1987 and 1989, said, “A corrupt Armed Forces, tolerated by the civilian government that presides over it, is nothing more than a mercenary unit and an instrument of tyranny and oppression.” For corrupt generals are criminals worse than their sworn enemies, the so-called “terrorists”.

“Terrorists” don't send their troops to the battlefield with inferior helmets, kevlar jackets, and combat boots to be shot at by an enemy to whom the corrupt generals sell arms and ammunition. The foot soldiers and young officers facing the communist-led New People’s Army (NPA) and the secessionist Moro Islamic Liberation Movement (MILF) in the countryside would not hesitate to revolt once more when they realize that this is what the corruption in the AFP boils down to.

“Terrorists” don't strafe and drop bombs on villages, destroying crops, homes, mosques and schoolhouses and driving the elderly, the sick, the women and the children from their homes and farms into virtual concentration camps while they maintain luxurious homes and send their children to expensive schools abroad.

“Terrorists” don’t steal or kill in the name of national security. They don't swear to defend the Philippine republic and the constitution to their last breath while holding green cards that betray their canine loyalty to the USA.Corrupt generals want war from which they gain power and privilege and amass unimaginable wealth.

Thus they detest peace and block the peace process. They do everything to undermine confidence in negotiated political solutions to the raging armed conflicts in our midst but would rather stick to purely military solutions such as failedcounter-insurgency programs and disastrous “all-out war” policies.Whether the AFP and the Arroyo government’s cover up will work and there will eventually be a whitewash even in Congress; whether the controversy will die down after some charges are filed, General Garcia is placed under some form of detention and perhaps another independent commission is formed to study the phenomenon of corruption in the AFP, ad nauseum; it cannot be back to business as usual.

On the surface it may seem like the guilty parties get away with their crimes but the rot and stink of corruption, immorality and anti-people policies will continue to undermine and sap the strength not just of the AFP but the entire political system.

It will erode the very legitimacy of the Arroyo government and may even lead to its early downfall.

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