Philippines to investigate allegations of military graft

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By Carlos H. Conde
The New York Times
Published: Jan. 31, 2011

MANILA — President Benigno S. Aquino III of the Philippines has ordered an investigation into allegations of systemic corruption within the armed forces, with millions of pesos said to have been pocketed by military officials, including several chiefs of staff.

The president ordered the Department of Justice investigation ‘‘with a view to prosecution,’’ Mr. Aquino’s spokesman, Ricky Carandang, said Sunday. Justice Secretary Leila M. de Lima earlier said that she was willing to put whistleblowers under her department’s witness protection program.

The charges have become the focus of public attention here since Thursday, when George Rabusa, a retired army colonel and former budget officer, testified in a Senate hearing that millions from a slush fund had gone into the pockets of chiefs of staff, three of whom he identified by name.

Gen. Ricardo David Jr., the present military chief of staff, said Friday that the armed forces ‘‘will fully cooperate with the ongoing investigation,’’ adding that ‘‘no form of corruption will be tolerated within the military.’’

Glenda Gloria, a military analyst at Newsbreak magazine, which has reported on the allegations, said Sunday that the choice of the next chief of staff would be a test of Mr. Aquino’s commitment to reform.

General David is set to retire in March after spending only a few months in office. An urgent action, Ms. Gloria said, ‘‘is to appoint a chief of staff who will stay long enough — three to four years — to institute reforms and who is strong enough to make bold decisions.’’

Mr. Aquino is scheduled to interview candidates this week. He said Friday that a commitment to fight corruption was one of the areas he would discuss with them.

Among Mr. Rabusa’s allegations are that Angelo Reyes, military chief of staff under the former president, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, received 50 million pesos, or about $1 million, as a ‘‘going away present’’ when he retired in 2001. Mr. Reyes also is alleged to have received during his time 5 million pesos every month from this slush fund taken from kickbacks from the military budget.

Mr. Reyes, who was present at the Senate hearing, denied the charge. ‘‘Did I instruct you to do anything illegal or improper? Did I request any money from you?’’ Mr. Reyes asked Mr. Rabusa, his former budget officer.

In 2003, a group of young military officers staged a mutiny over corruption. But Newsbreak has provided detailed allegations since 2004, citing lavish lifestyles among generals and officers — including Mr. Rabusa — and their families. Mr. Rabusa, the magazine said, earned 24,000 pesos a month as budget officer but maintained 12 bank accounts and even sold a house in Florida.

From 2001 to 2004, according to Newsbreak, Mr. Rabusa kept vaults in his office filled with money that he would dispense to military officers who would visit him. In his testimony Thursday, Mr. Rabusa said the armed forces even paid off officials at the Commission on Audit.

At the hearing, he said that he and the others merely inherited a corrupt system and that he was simply following the orders of his superiors. Mr. Rabusa himself was investigated by an anti-graft court and relieved of his post in 2004, when he opted for early retirement.

The magazine has also reported on a practice by the military of skimming a certain percentage off the salaries being paid by the United Nations to Filipino soldiers sent on peacekeeping missions to other countries. Officials in 2006 defended the practice, saying that it was meant to recover the expenses incurred by the military in sending these troops to peacekeeping missions.

Mr. Rabusa’s former supervisor, the former military comptroller, Gen. Carlos Garcia, is on trial for amassing hundreds of millions of pesos in funds and property in the Philippines and abroad. Mr. Garcia, who is out on bail, has entered into a plea bargain agreement with the government’s anti-graft court.

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