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Editorial

Huh!?

Something is exceedingly odd in the Ombudsman’s recent dismissal of plunder charges filed by retired Col. George Rabusa against three former Armed Forces chiefs, 14 other top-ranking military officials and five civilians who worked for the military, in connection with billions of pesos of alleged misappropriated funds in the AFP. “Recent” is not even the right word; in the first of many head-scratchers attending the decision, the ruling was in fact signed by Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales as far back as July 2, 2012, but was released only last April 4, 2013, or a full nine months later. What gives?

Rabusa had made his explosive revelations of “pasalubong,” “pabaon” and other instances of fund-juggling by the military hierarchy before a Senate committee in 2011. The paper trail and prima facie evidence he presented were so damaging to the AFP that a humiliated Angelo Reyes, a former chief of staff and one of those who were said to have received a million-peso send-off gift, shot himself before his mother’s grave shortly after his appearance before the panel.

Rabusa didn’t just come with bare allegations, either before the Senate or the Department of Justice where he subsequently filed plunder raps against 23 individuals who allegedly benefited or enabled the widespread fund conversion in the AFP. The files and documents he turned over as evidence covered the conversion of some P1.5 billion in military funds from 1995 to 2004. The photocopied documents and affidavits contained in 352 big brown folders amounted to more than 200,000 pages.

Because of the volume of paperwork, Rabusa had even sought the assistance of nuns belonging to the Association of Major Religious Superiors in the Philippines, who helped buy a photocopying machine and 400 reams of bond paper to prepare 32 sets of documentary evidence, each containing 11 sets of various photocopied affidavits and financial records such as passbooks and checks, fund receipts, cash advances and fund allotment forms.

It wasn’t his word alone, too. Former AFP finance officer Perla Valerio, along with two retired lieutenant colonels, Arnulfo dela Cruz and Romeo Mateo, submitted separate affidavits in support of Rabusa’s charges. Dela Cruz served as special disbursing officer of J7 (the Civil Military Operations unit) from 1998 to 2004. Mateo was the unit’s budget officer from 1989 to 2007.

The gist of the allegations was staggering: Rabusa said he gave at least P10 million as monthly “support” to the Office of the AFP Chief of Staff. The pilfered funds were mainly used as “pabaon” and “pasalubong” (sendoff and welcome gifts, respectively) for retiring and incoming AFP chiefs of staff. Dela Cruz and Mateo also admitted that they had regularly set aside 11 percent of the converted funds they facilitated to be released and withdrawn for such side purposes. The rest was distributed to the chief accountant, resident auditor and commanding officer of the AFP finance office.

Among those covered by Rabusa’s allegations were two ex-military comptrollers who, well before his revelations, were already embroiled in financial scandal: Maj. Gen. Carlos Garcia, who was found to have amassed P303.2-million bank deposits plus overseas properties that were all beyond his salary grade; and Lt. Gen. Jacinto Ligot, with his own P740-million stash in the bank. Rabusa had alleged that when he was the AFP budget officer, he gave Ligot a total of P360 million in a span of 15 months.

The shocking thing is, all three cases are, by this time, kaput. The Sandiganbayan recently upheld the controversial plea bargain deal entered into by former Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez with Garcia, in effect absolving him from the heavier penalties of plunder as long as he returns part of the millions he amassed. (But, for heaven’s sake, where did he get them in the first place?) The Supreme Court has also unfrozen P54 million of Ligot’s unexplained money. And with the Ombudsman’s junking of Rabusa’s raps, both Garcia and Ligot, along with the rest of their co-accused, have been virtually exonerated.

The Ombudsman said this was because the allegations were “unproven” and the result of “faulty and unreasonable computation.” Rabusa did not present “competent evidence,” it said, “except bare allegations.”

Come again? Not a single one of the truckload of documents and signed affidavits submitted yielded anything of value?

That is, by any reasonable standard, an incredible claim. With it, the government’s much-vaunted anticorruption drive has just been KO’d with a most suspicious, and outrageous, one-three punch.


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