The military on Tuesday angrily rejected Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago’s suggestions that its top officers were like a “Mafia” crime family amid a widening probe into a corruption scandal in the Armed Forces.
Santiago, in a speech on the Senate floor on Monday, denounced what she described as massive plundering of military funds by the AFP’s top 12 officers who, she alleged, acted like “the military Mafia, the military mob.”
At least three officers, led by Maj. Gen. Carlos F. Garcia, the former AFP comptroller, face possible court-martial for corruption owing to “unexplained wealth.”
Regardless of the corruption probe, Santiago’s description of the chief of staff and the 11 generals who make up the senior leadership as a “Mafia” was “an insult to the generals and the officer corps as well as to ordinary soldiers,” the Armed Forces spokesman, Maj. Gen. Edilberto Adan, said. “Such statements amount to giving aid to the enemies of the state.”
The probe was triggered by a tip-off from the US government early this year that Garcia and members of his family had brought nearly a million dollars to the United States over 10 years.
Adan said the corruption allegations are being investigated, but should not be taken to mean the entire institution is guilty.
President Arroyo on Monday outlined her plans to deal with “systemic problems of transparency” in the defense establishment.
They include having a single bidding committee for supplies and equipment, giving field commanders access to funds normally controlled by generals, and shorter terms of office for the comptroller, who controls the Armed Forces’ budget.
“The way [Santiago] spoke, it seems like the Armed Forces hasn’t done anything good. She relegated all our achievements to the background,” Adan said at a press briefing Tuesday afternoon at Camp Aguinaldo.
The Armed Forces chief information officer, Lt. Col. Daniel Lucero, denied Santiago’s allegation that the military has an outstanding unliquidated fund of P1.44 billion.
He said the P1.14 billion had been liquidated, leaving a balance of P304 million.
“While the AFP respects the honorable senator’s concern, it also appeals to the people and concerned individuals to be more prudent and judicious in selecting their sources,” he said.
Also on Tuesday a group of retired military officers expressed deep concern over the House inquiry into supposed widespread corruption in the Armed Forces.
In a one-page statement signed by the group’s executive secretary, retired Brig. Gen. Paterno Lomongon, the Association of Generals and Flag Officers Inc. said the group is “gravely concerned” over the joint hearing being conducted by the House Committees on National Defense and on Banks and Financial Intermediaries.
The inquiry, the group said, is making it appear that “the whole Armed Forces organization is being indicted.”
“The whole situation is open to exploitation by those whose agenda is to destabilize or topple the government,” the group said. “The morale of the rank-and-file members of the Armed Forces may be adversely affected by these negative comments.”
President Arroyo on Tuesday urged political leaders to observe “restraint” in accusing the military of corruption.
“In fairness to the Filipino soldiers and the command, I would like to appeal for a good measure of rhetorical restraint among our political leaders,” the President said in a statement.
She said her administration is determined to prosecute the government’s venal officials, including members of the police and the military.
— Karl B. Kaufman and Ma. Theresa Torres