THE military was once described as a genie that had come out of the bottle. That was the military during the marital-law years of the strongman Ferdinand Marcos, when the men in uniform were the favored group. They got all the perks, the key positions in government and the influence.
The genie has not really gone back inside the bottle. They took part in two uprisings—Edsa 1 and 2—that toppled Marcos and President Joseph Estrada. They were in the forefront of at least seven coups d’etat during the administration of President Cory Aquino. Last year some 300 of them, led by junior officers, flexed their muscle and staged a short-lived mutiny right in the heart of Makati’s financial district.
Lately, the genie has acquired a taste for money. Corruption has reportedly become widespread in the military where generals are lining their pockets with tainted money. This corruption, which has hit the headlines of late, may have been prompted by laxity or lack of checks and balances in the handling of money, thus encouraging some officers to make money out of the system. Maj. Gen. Edilberto Adan, spokesman for the AFP, himself blames the corruption scandal involving generals on a “flawed, defective and weak” system of checks and balances in the military.
There is really large amounts of money to be made in the military for those who are interested because after the Department of Education, the Department of Defense and the military get a large chunk of the national budget. “Greed of some generals,” was how retired Navy commodore Rex Robles, who was a member of the Feliciano Commission that looked into the root causes of the Oakwood mutiny last year, described it. He said that greed may have prompted these ranking officers to dip their dirty fingers into the lucrative military pie. A former member of the Reform the Armed Forces Movement and military rebel who was involved in coups during the Marcos and Aquino years, Robles said some military officers have lost their sense of values. “For them, it is right to take money,” he said.
And money can be made through kickbacks and commissions from contracts and supplies, “conversions” where deliveries of supplies to military units are not made in actual goods but in cash with kickbacks here and there, or even from funds from the United Nations for peacekeeping duties and from the United States for the Balikatan war games. Who says we are in a fiscal crisis? Not in the military.
Some of the corrupt will be caught with their hands in the cookie jar, of course. The names that are coming out now who are allegedly involved in corruption may just be the tip of the iceberg. Thus far we have Maj. Gen. Carlos Garcia, a former AFP comptroller, whose wealth, including US properties worth $1.4 million, dollar deposits and investments, is allegedly disproportionate to his income; Lt. Col. George Rabusa, Garcia’s budget officer who reportedly has unexplained wealth amounting to P50 million in real estate, vehicles and cash deposits; and Lt. Col. Antonio Ramon Lim, another budget officer who is now undergoing military schooling in Australia but is also being investigated for supposedly acquiring about P100 million in ill-gotten wealth.
We can include here Maj. Gen. Ralph Flores, former commander of air logistics and support command, who was ordered to face court-martial for misdeclaring his birth date to prolong his military service beyond compulsory retirement age by three years. His case involves no corruption but he is getting more than what he deserves by collecting salaries and benefits beyond his retirement age and now the government is trying to recover them.
There are more suspects if the talkative Robles will not shut up as what some people who may be hurting want. Robles revealed last week that US authorities had told him about alleged deposits of two other generals and three Cabinet-level officials. But people are kept guessing because he has not named names. Robles partial revelations, though, may have made some people perspire even in their air-conditioned rooms.
The names so far mentioned seem so few as to make a conclusion that corruption in the military is widespread. But some people in the know say that those corrupt are deep in the woodwork. As Robles described it, the AFP is “a house infested by termites that can collapse anytime.”
Thus far it has not. But it makes us wonder how this corruption can go on without the knowledge of the AFP leadership. The AFP chief of staff, Gen. Narciso Abaya, is on the spot now. Is he or all the past AFP chiefs of staff in on this corruption? The answer can only be provided if an honest-to-goodness investigation is conducted.
Is corruption really endemic in the military? It may have been encouraged by the no-squeal syndrome pervasive in the ranks. This may consist in no squealing when one sees an anomaly going on. They also tend to protect their own. “We’re all in this together,” the argument goes. So in a corrupt deal, everyone gets a cut. Everybody is happy.
Perhaps this is also why the military has no capacity for self-renewal. Self-renewal would have meant the whistle-blower would be an insider, the suspects are tried within the military system and the punishment meted out according to that system. That’s not what is happening now. In the case of Garcia, it’s the US authorities who tipped off our locals about how a son of Garcia was caught at the San Francisco airport in December 2003 with an undeclared $100,000 in cash. And to extricate the son, Garcia’s wife Clarita had reportedly told US Customs she herself had also brought in $100,000 before. Then she told US authorities that their money came from gifts and commissions from suppliers dealing with her husband, who was then the AFP comptroller. Poor Clarita! It sounded so innocent but it provided the goods against her husband.
And now there is the revelation of Robles that it was US authorities who had tipped him off about the dollar deposits stashed in the US by two generals and three Cabinet-level officials. Don’t be surprised now why Abaya wants a civilian court to try Garcia. Abaya said it was meant to forestall accusations of bias if the beleaguered general is acquitted. But it is also an admission that the military justice system does not work. The military really needs an overhaul, from its procurement and contracting system where corruption thrives to its justice system. Such systemic overhaul should allow it to cleanse its ranks and to avoid corruption.
Of course, corruption is not only endemic in the military alone. It’s really symptomatic of the bigger corruption in the country at large. The military is only as corrupt as the society which it is a part of. We should blame ourselves for the tolerance of corruption going on around us. If there are no whistle blowers, corruption will go on.
On the other hand, it is also a surprise how we rise up when the evidence of corruption is overwhelming. Edsa I and 2 arose from corruption issues against Marcos and Estrada during which the military went side by side with the people who rose in defiance against the corrupt system. The Oakwood mutiny on July 27, 2003, was called partly on corruption issues in the defense establishment and the military. Which goes to show that the military genie also rises to the occasion when the need arises. The situation is not really hopeless.