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Rotten to the corps

Leandro DD Coronel
By Leandro DD Coronel

MANILA

The Philippine Constitution states that the military is the protector of the people.

Well, screw the Constitution, these military brass don’t care about their mandate and they’ve plundered their own budget and line their pockets with hundreds of millions of pesos, to the detriment of the foot soldiers.

Yes, the people’s own uniformed guardians have been stealing the people’s (and soldiers’) money and fattening their bank accounts over the years. This, while the lowly soldiers carry out their sworn duty to safeguard the people from harm with pitifully low salaries, and shabby equipment and even shabbier uniforms and footwear.

This was recently revealed by a former military budget officer in the course of an investigation of a former general who was the armed forces’ comptroller. Gen. Carlos Garcia is accused of amassing some P300 million in army funds that he siphoned off into his bank accounts. He and his family are said to have had 124 bank accounts in 10 banks!

Garcia’s alleged plunder was discovered when two of his sons were caught by US Immigration sneaking $100,000 into the United States without declaring the cash. A letter written later by Garcia’s wife justifying the cash as proceeds of gifts from military contractors and suppliers is seen to be the smoking gun proving Garcia’s plunder. Mrs. Garcia and her three sons are American citizens and are facing money smuggling charges in the States.

But the biggest stink here is that Gen. Garcia has been able to wangle a plea bargain with Filipino prosecutors enabling him to plead guilty to lesser charges of bribery (instead of the original charge of plunder which carries a penalty of life imprisonment and is non-bailable during the trial) in exchange for giving back about P103 million of the P303 million that he was supposed to have stolen from the military’s budget. This means — yes, your math is right — that he gets to keep the lion’s share of the plundered money.

The plea bargain has caused a major sensation here, provoking outrage among the populace, including President Benigno Aquino III. From the religious to the laity, lawmakers to civil society, businessmen to sidewalk vendors — they’re all aghast at the apparent sell-out by the government’s own prosecutors. Angry citizens want the plea bargain junked and the prosecutors investigated for agreeing to such a disadvantageous agreement with the larcenous general.

Also coming under intense heat is the Ombudsman, the prosecutors’ boss. Already very controversial Ombuds(wo)man Merceditas Gutierrez, a former classmate of President Gloria Arroyo’s husband and generally known as the Arroyos’ protector, had signed off on the deal. She’s under fire from all sides of the controversy (except Arroyo’s side) and is currently at the center of the storm. Unfortunately she can’t be fired because she has a Constitutionally guaranteed term of office. Impeachment attempts against her have failed because, up until recently, Arroyo’s allies have dominated the Congress, where an impeachment must originate.

As of this writing, the case is in limbo. The Ombudsman claims the plea bargain with Garcia isn’t final yet. And yet, Garcia has been able to put up bail and is out of jail, much to the people’s anger.

This is another case where suspicion centers on Gloria Arroyo, who cultivated and pampered the military brass so they wouldn’t move against here when she had become controversial and despised by practically all sectors of society. Did she know about the shenanigans and simply looked away while the military bosses were skimming off the soldiers’ money to line their pockets and indulge their wives’ and children’s whims and vices? How could Gloria not know? observers note, when she was the military’s Commander-in-Chief? If she didn’t know, what kind of Commander-in-Chief was that? If indeed she knew, did she also partake of the humongous loot?

Meanwhile, the lowly soldiers out there battling both insurgents as well as the cruel elements of nature continue to suffer meager pay, demeaning camp and field conditions, and hostile encounters against enemies of the State. The soldiers are gravely demoralized, according to reports.

Over the years, junior military officers have staged coups-d’etat partly because of the abuses of their superiors and the uncaring treatment of the rank-and-file while the top brass and their wives lived it up as they shopped in expensive boutiques and toured the chi-chi capitals of the world. Generals’ wives cruised the boulevards of Paris and Rome while foot soldiers dragged their worn-out boots on the rugged terrain of Patikul (Sulu) and Romblon and many other areas around the country. The wives were contentedly uttering, “Ah, this is life,” while the soldiers were contemptuously muttering, “Hah! Is this life?”

It has also been revealed that the military has had a practice of greasing the palms of incoming and retiring armed forces Chiefs of Staff with tens, and even hundreds, of millions of pesos. Thus, even if the military’s top bananas knew about the stealing, they simply kept quiet because they were

being compensated handsomely anyway. The military bosses had found a way to feather their nests and how! Actually, they were gilding their cages with gold stolen from their own soldiers.


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