Intelligence—military or civilian—is an important matter. It should not be used as a toy. It should not be manipulated—for whatever reason—by the people in the military and civilian government organs that control the collection, analysis, processing and dissemination of intelligence.
Intelligence is too vital a part of a state’s means of insuring its own security and survival to be trifled with.
But that is what happened more than 10 years ago, in connection with the effort to have former President Joseph “Erap” Estrada impeached. The Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (ISAFP) was used for partisan politics—and made to fabricate and disseminate intelligence information.
Military intelligence people used what they allegedly saw while spying on then President Estrada. They provided witnesses to help persuade the public—including lawmakers—to decide that Mr. Estrada deserved to be impeached and removed from office.
Later, when Mr. Estrada had been ousted by the revolt of the Makati rich and the politicians lusting to replace him and his coterie in Malacañang, the ISAFP gave prosecutors bent on persecuting Mr. Estrada alleged A-1 intelligence information. The false intelligence said that he had, with then PNP Police Director (now senator) Panfilo Lacson, “laundered nearly $1 billion believed to have been amassed since 1996 from drug trafficking, kidnapping and other criminal activities into bank accounts in three countries.”
The revelations were made by the chief of ISAFP, then colonel and now retired Brig. Gen. Victor Corpus. The Inquirer published an article that quoted Corpus as saying “that at least $728,500,293 was stashed in individual and joint accounts in 18 savings, checking and time deposits in Citibank and Bank of America branches in the United States, Hong Kong and Canada.” The article also said Corpus told the Inquirer that a joint team of the Isafp and Philippine National Police left Manila on June 2, 2001, and spent nearly a month in San Francisco investigating the alleged bank accounts.”
Those reports turned out to be rubbish. But it was made a basis for sending Erap Estrada to jail.
Corpus apologizes, Erap accepts
The other day, President Estrada, according to an Inquirer report, “accepted the apology of retired Brig. Gen. Victor Corpus, former head of the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (ISAFP), in connection with the publication in the August 5, 2001, issue of the Inquirer of a news report headlined “Ping has millions in the US.”
Mr. Corpus had apparently written to former President Estrada and Mrs. Estrada (the former Sen. Loi Estrada) asking the couple accept Corpus’ apology “for troubling (them) and (their) family in the past.”
The report said: “The Inquirer also wishes to express its regret for the publication of the news report, which was based on an interview with then Colonel Corpus and on the post-operation report he submitted to then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
No criminal liabilities?
When intelligence operatives damage a person, using false information, should they not be held liable and punished?
This impunity is, sadly, another unjust characteristic of the Philippine system. Military men can tell lies, abuse and maltreat innocent persons—arrest them, disappear them and kill them extrajudicially—and go on with their lives happily without fear of being made to pay for their evil deeds.
Mr. Corpus and the Isapf furthered the interests of politicians in power. They worked against the laws of our Republic to serve the ruling power.
But some other persons with plans different from those of the rulers can also use the power of the military intelligence agencies. That happened with the “Hello Garci” tapes. Those tapes were recordings of phone calls between a woman whose voice and intonation pattern are that of then President Gloria M. Arroyo and the Commission on Election’s Virgilio Garcillano. It is against the law for a candidate to converse with an election commissioner.
The Hello Garci tapes began the destruction of then President Arroyo’s reputation. Those tapes led to her unprecedented unpopularity, her being the most widely vilified figure. Her unpopularity took away the luster of her immense achievements as our president. Because of the “Hello Garci” tapes, until today, when the Aquino administration must follow the good socio-economic blueprints crafted during the Arroyo years, the Philippine public cannot believe what the World Bank, the IMF and other international bodies recognize as then President Arroyo’s exceptional successes in the management of the Philippine economy.
NICA rice-crisis report
How important intelligence reports are was again illustrated by another Inquirer gaffe. Earlier in the month, it made a shocking page 1 banner story of a fictitious report that there was a looming rice crisis. The Inquirer was conned into believing that the report was an authentic intelligence product of the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (NICA), one of the State’s key civilian intelligence services, an agency under the Office of the President.
The NICA head, the Secretary of Agriculture and the President’s spokesmen denied the existence of such a report.
A most important reform
The government has more than a dozen intelligence bodies. In fact, every government department, bureau, and unit has “intelligence funds,” which are not subject to public auditing by the COA.
Among the most serious reforms that must be done to make ours a more just and human-rights respectful government is in the manning of the intelligence agencies.
Apart from being people of exceptional intellectual powers and intelligence, the men and women—and the leadership—of ISAFP, NICA and the other “spook” offices must be persons of the highest moral character.
Unfortunately, such persons are the most difficult to find in our unhappy land.