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Military plunder and plea bargain

The reader who blinked almost certainly would have missed it. But the one-column report tucked in an inside page of this newspaper the other Sunday was explosive, dredging from memory the all-but-forgotten matter of ex-military comptroller Jacinto Ligot’s unexplained wealth that included condos in fancy addresses and real estate in the provinces, houses in the United States, stock shares and other investments, etc. — perhaps the stuff of dreams of buck privates and certainly beyond the reach of even an officer in the Armed Forces of the Philippines who retired as lieutenant general officially making little more than P35,000 a month.

According to the report, the Sandiganbayan’s 4th division found P102 million worth of properties held by Ligot and his family “illegally acquired,” and ordered that these be forfeited in favor of the government. The court’s decision is the outcome of a petition filed by the Office of the Ombudsman after a lifestyle investigation conducted on the Ligots. The petition was filed in 2005, or all of 15 years ago.

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Was there ground for the weary observer to be perked up by the idea of the long, though grown arthritic, arm of the law finally catching up with this man? In 2011, the Senate blue ribbon committee ordered Ligot’s arrest to get him to testify at an inquiry into corruption in the AFP. He and his wife Erlinda had earned citations of contempt from the committee chaired by then Sen. Teofisto Guingona III for lying about the state of their health in order to evade testifying. (If memory serves, Ligot eventually showed up at the Senate in a wheelchair—a stage prop not unfamiliar to the best of them, from Gloria Macapagal Arroyo arriving at the Manila airport to get on a plane for parts unknown, to Joc-Joc Bolante deplaning from the United States, to then Chief Justice Renato Corona, since deceased, attending his impeachment trial.) Confronted with damning data, the Ligots displayed the benefits of legal coaching in stonewalling on the senators’ questions.

With the forfeiture order issued by the antigraft court on assets such as two houses in California, an Essensa condo in Taguig City, corn land in Malaybalay, Bukidnon, farm machinery, and bank deposits, is it correct to think that the Ligots have been served their just deserts? Surely not until they show us the (devalued) money, and until they are punished for their crime.

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But there’s more of the same in the recesses of public memory snowed under by time and reports of other mining ops to get at the gold in them thar military hills. Bigger cases, too: The scandal involving yet another former AFP comptroller, Carlos Garcia, who was arrested and charged along with his family with amassing P303 million in ill-gotten wealth while in active service, and who walked as a result of a plea bargain, was actually what triggered the Senate inquiry and a similar probe in the House.

Garcia’s case is a study of the cracks in the system that make crimes against the people, including lowly foot soldiers, possible. Public attention was first pricked in 2003 by news of Garcia’s two sons being held at the San Francisco airport for not declaring $100,000 that they were carrying into the United States. It was—is—a family affair, and the family’s sense of entitlement was made clear by reports of Garcia’s wife Clarita writing US authorities to release the money, it being part, she said, of the cash gifts regularly received by her husband from military suppliers and contractors.

The Senate inquiry shook out open secrets such as the cash gifts allegedly received by ranking military officials upon their retirement—a claim that former AFP chief of staff Angelo Reyes, since dead by his own hand, denied in his own testimony…

How long ago these all seem. But the circumstances of the plea bargain between Garcia and the Office of the Ombudsman then led by Merceditas Gutierrez, which the Sandiganbayan eventually upheld, continues to present wry lessons. In brief, Garcia agreed to plead guilty to lesser offenses of bribery and violation of the Anti-Money Laundering Act and to return P135.43 million. His petition for bail was filed and granted on the same day in December 2010. Etc.

Recently, the new AFP chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana, was quoted as saying that the military should learn from past mistakes. There’s much to be learned from the cases of Ligot, Garcia, and others who shame the gallant men and women of the military and give them a bad name.

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TAGS: Commentary, Jacinto Ligot, military plunder, plea bargaining, Rosario A. Garcellano, Sandiganbaya
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