Sunday, November 14, 2004

Ex-AFP Inspector-General Sees Whitewash in Court Martial vs General

Retired Navy Captain Danilo Vizmanos, formerly with the AFP Office of the Inspector General, is not convinced the court martial proceedings recently initiated against Maj. Gen. Carlos Garcia would result in a fair rendering of justice. Court martial proceedings can actually be used to perpetrate a whitewash in military scandals, he says.

BY ALEXANDER MARTIN REMOLLINO
Bulatlat

The court martial proceedings initiated last week against Maj. Gen. Carlos Garcia, former Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) comptroller, are not assurance that justice will be done in his case, according to retired Navy Captain Danilo Vizmanos former AFP Inspector-General.

Garcia presently stands accused of amassing some P143 million ($2.55 million based on a $1:P56 exchange rate) in ill-gotten wealth. The difference between his income in the last 10 years and his total expenses for the same period amounts to only P2.57 million.

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, apparently feeling the impact of public pressure to act against military corruption, had called for court martial proceedings against Garcia.

But the Garcia corruption case has also triggered a constitutional crisis, with the Sandiganbayan (anti-graft court) split over whether to continue administrative charges against the former AFP comptroller and the AFP insisting on its court martial jurisdiction.

Questions have been raised on whether the supremacy of civilian courts is now being undermined again by the AFP just like what happened under martial law in the 1970s.

What happens in a court martial?

Taking off from the Garcia case, Vizmanos said: “There should first be an investigation, it could be by the inspector-general or the provost marshall, depending on the nature of the case. In the case of Garcia, it may be the inspector-general. That is to find out whether there is indeed something fishy going on – to unearth the facts of the case, so it’s something like a fact-finding operation.”

If there is an established basis, the inspector-general would recommend to the AFP chief of staff that a pre-trial investigation be conducted. The chief of staff would then appoint a pre-trial investigator; usually any officer could serve as pre-trial investigator. “But in big cases like the Garcia scandal,” he said, “the investigators would have to come from the Judge Advocate General’s Office (JAGO).”

The pre-trial investigator, who serves as the counterpart of the civil court’s fiscal, will look into the case to see if there are reasonable grounds for filing a case. If warranted, the pre-trial investigator would prepare a charge sheet.

The charge sheet would then be referred to the JAGO and sent to the chief of staff or any concerned officer. The concerned officer would become a convening authority and issue orders for court martial.

There are three kinds of court martial: general court martial, special court martial, and summary court martial. The summary court martial, the lowest level, has only three members; while in the special court martial there are five members. The general court martial has seven members.

The court martial officers, according to Vizmanos, should be equal in rank to the accused, or higher. “In the Garcia case it is rather difficult for them, considering Garcia’s rank: the court martial officers to try him should be major generals or higher.”

Appointment of court martial officers

“Now, it is in the appointment of court martial officers that you can sense whether or not there will be any justice done,” Vizmanos reveals. “You can see in this where the sympathies of the superior officers lie: whether they are in favor of the prosecution or the defense.”

This can be figured out, Vizmanos said, from the composition of the officers appointed to the court martial. “Who is appointed trial judge advocate (the counterpart of the civil court’s prosecutor), who is appointed defense counsel – because they are all appointed by just one authority, the convening authority.”

In the Garcia case, Vizmanos pointed out, “the convening authority is the chief of staff.”

“If the convening authority is biased toward the defense, he would appoint a former classmate or schoolmate, or even someone who is involved in the case,” Vizmanos said. “So if the chief of staff is also involved, he could weaken the case by appointing a mediocre trial judge advocate and putting the more competent ones in the defense side. They could even get civilian lawyers to help the defense.”

“In the Garcia case, the office of the chief of staff is apparently also involved,” Vizmanos said, “and yet it is the convening authority for the court martial. So it is possible that the court martial proceedings would continue, but the proceedings may be confined to only one person.”

Lawyer Roel Pulido, who presently handles the case of some 300 soldiers who staged an armed protest action in Makati City last year against military corruption and atrocities against the civilian populace, agrees with Vizmanos on the argument that court martial would not necessarily bring justice. “The court martial may even be used to exonerate accused officers favored by the higher-ups or prevent the entire truth from coming out,” he told Bulatlat in an interview.

Pulido also said that his clients have not told him of any single case in which top-ranking officials were convicted in court martial proceedings.

In a court martial, Vizmanos said, the whole truth will not necessarily come out. “It could be only a partial truth that would come out of the proceedings,” he pointed out. “The court martial can be a means of covering up the whole mess, sacrificing one person and keeping others off the hook.” Bulatlat

© 2004 Bulatlat ■ Alipato Publications

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