Ever since two brave military officers and a courageous government auditor came out to expose corruption in the military and the Commission on Audit (COA), two earth-shaking events occurred that could break through the massive “walls” that were built to protect corrupt officials during the nine-year presidency of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.
On February 14, 2011, Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Neri Colmenares revealed that the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) might have “converted” P179.4 billion into “slush funds” during the Arroyo administration, from 2002 to 2010.He said that Congress appropriated a total of P343.4 billion for “personal services” (PS) -- the budget term for salaries – while the total compensation requested by the Department of National Defense (DND) and the AFP only amounted to P164 billion.
During the testimony of former AFP budget officer Lt. Col. George Rabusa (ret.), it was revealed that PS appropriations were “the favorite allocations converted into slush funds” shared by senior officers including the Chief of Staff.The “slush funds” were known officially as Provision for Command-Directed Activities (PCDA).By the way it sounds, it would be like a contingency fund that is used at the discretion of the AFP Chief of Staff.
In hisexposé, Rabusa accused the late Gen. Angelito Reyes of receiving P150 million including a P50-million“pabaon”(send-off money) when he retired as AFP Chief of Staff in 2001. Rabusa said that he and his boss, then AFP Comptroller Lt. Gen. Jacinto Ligot, personally delivered the money to Reyes.Rabusa acted as the“bagman” for Ligot and his successor Maj. Gen. Carlos Garcia.They were known as the “Comptroller Mafia.” Rabusa said that Garcia and he “converted” almost P1 billion between 2000 and 2001.But compared to what Colmenares revealed, that was just a drop in the bucket.
Colmenares linked Arroyo – who is now a congresswoman representing Pampanga’s second district – to these “conversions,” which if proven to be true could be the basis for the filing of plunder charges against Arroyo and the military officers involved in conjuring this humongous financial hocus-pocus.
This alleged scam could only be done by padding – or bloating -- the national budget’s PS appropriations for the AFP.According to Colmenares, Congress appropriated P41.3 billion for PS in 2010 but the AFP only requested P19.4 billion for 137,453 positions.That’s a discrepancy of P21.9 billion.In 2002, Arroyo’s first year in office, P50.4 billion was budgeted for PS and only P24.2 billion was requested for 134,449 positions.That’s a discrepancy of P26.2 billion.
From 2002 to 2010, the total discrepancy is P179.4 billion!It’s apparent that a portion of that huge amount was “converted” into the “slush funds” to which Rabusa based hisexposé in the Senate.But the amount that Rabusa exposed appears to be justthe tip of the iceberg.Where did the rest of the money go?
Follow the money
Indeed, Arroyo has a lot of explaining to do.First, why were her administration’s national budgets from 2002 top 2010 bloated by more than 50%?Secondly, where did the unused portion of the PS appropriations go?Since the money couldn’t just vanish into thin air, there must be a stinking trail where it ended up?If Congress were interested to know where the money went, all they have to do is follow the money and it would only lead to one place – where the national budget was put together… inMalacañang.
As a result of Colmenares’ revelations, Rep. Rodolfo Biazon filed House Resolution 967 to determine if the PS appropriations were indeed converted into the controversial “slush funds.”However, an unnamed member of the House Appropriations Committee said, “Apart from salaries (of soldiers), there are 40 other compensation or allowances common to all that if you add would cover the so-called discrepancies they are saying.”And then he added, “Is conversion possible? Of course, but what I’m saying is that this information (P179 billion) is inaccurate and misleading. This is such a huge amount.”Well, Mr. Unnamed Congressman, if that would be the case, then there would be more reasons to proceed with Rep. Biazon’s resolution and get to the bottom of this issue.
Supreme Court takes a detour
While the furor on the “slush funds” was going on, the Supreme Court made a ruling to allow the House of Representatives’ Justice Committee to proceed with the impeachment proceedings against Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez.By a vote of 7-5-2 with one abstention, the Supreme Court dismissed Gutierrez’s petition against the House committee, which effectively lifted the “status quo ante order” it issued exactly five months ago, on September 14, 2010.
The high court’s ruling came as a big surprise since most of its past rulings concerning cases or individuals associated with Arroyo were ruled in their favor.Gutierrez is known to be very close to Gloria and her husband, Mike Arroyo, and has been widely criticized for building a protective wall around them; thus, insulating them from charges of graft and corruption like the controversial NBN-ZTE scandal.
When the Supreme Court issued the “status quo ante order,” the vote was 8-3-4.Those who voted to issue the order were: Chief Justice Corona and Justices Velasco, Del Castillo, Perez, Abad, Bersamin, Villarama, and Peralta.The three dissenters were: Justices Carpio, Carpio-Morales, and Sereno.And those who were on official business were: Leonardo-De Castro, Brion, Mendoza, and Nachura.
On the recent 7-5-2 vote lifting the “status quo ante order,” the seven who voted for dismissal were: Justices Carpio, Carpio-Morales, Sereno, Abad, Mendoza, Nachura, and Villarama. The five dissenters were: Chief Justice Corona and Justices Brion, Bersamin, Leonardo-De Castro, and Peralta.Justices Del Castillo and Perez partially concurred with the majority; and Justice Velasco inhibited himself from the proceedings because his son, Marinduque Rep. Lord Allan Velasco, belongs to the House justice committee.
It’s interesting to note that only three out of the eight who originally voted for the “status quo ante order” voted in favor of Gutierrez’s petition, to wit: Corona, Bersamin, and Peralta.Del Castillo and Perez partially concurred with the majority; Abad and Peralta voted to dismiss her petition; and Velasco abstained.
With only five justices favoring Gutierrez in her petition to stop the House impeachment proceedings, there is a notable change in the direction of the Supreme Court.However, the vote is not yet final and executory.Gutierrez is entitled – and is expected -- to file for a reconsideration of the high court’s ruling dismissing her petition.Who knows how the justices would vote on it.And like a river, the most dangerous part is when the river’s current makes a rapid turn.It could be deadly.
At a crossroads
Meanwhile, some members of the House are ecstatic and confident.“All is assured,” they said.Indeed, with only one-third vote required in a plenary session, Gutierrez – if the Supreme Court reaffirms its decision as final and executory – is on her way to the Senate for conviction or acquittal of, among other charges, “betrayal of public trust.”
Finally, the country is about to reach a crossroads – a point of no return to better times or a return to an era fraught with corruption.
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