PIMENTEL-REYES WAR ESCALATES

Manila, March 18, 2003 -- Sen. Aquilino Pimentel Jr. is on the warpath and ready to scalp Defense chief (ret. Gen.) Angelo Reyes after a whole page advertisement "in defense" of the Department of Defense (DND) chief in two broadsheets were published.

In a privilege speech yesterday, Pimentel blasted Reyes, accusing the Cabinet official of misuse of public funds as he publicly divulged that Reyes hired, not one as he previously stated, but three more public relations firms, allegedly utilizing funds of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to prop up his image.

In the same privilege speech, he alleged Reyes, who has refused to tell all on what legislators claimed as the destructive and destabilizing operations in Mindanao when he reportedly ordered the attack a Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) lair, the Buliok Complex, close to a month ago, received at least a P1 million a month from former President Joseph Estrada while Reyes served as his chief of staff.

But sources told the Tribune that Reyes was getting P1 million a month from the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor), which Reyes never declared in his income tax returns.

The Defense chief was also said to have kept this for himself.

The senator vowed to put Reyes to task in answering his charges in the Senate when the DND official appears before the Senate when it reconvenes the Legislative Oversight Committee on the Visiting Forces Agreement (LOVFA) this week.

Pimentel mentioned the Pagcor payola to Reyes in passing and failed to elaborate on the total amount Reyes received for himself under the Estrada administration, saying all he was told was that the P1 million monthly given to the DND chief then was reportedly for assistance to soldiers.

He was prompted to make these revelations due to the publication of the full-page advertisement by supposed supporters of Reyes, reportedly coming from the ranks of the AFP.

Titled "Soldiers' appeal...stop politicking," Pimentel was accused of placing under fire Reyes on the Pikit and Buliok operations for his alleged political gains and urged the senator to refrain from criticizing Reyes.

Military sources, however, told the Tribune also yesterday that it is not likely for the so-called rank-and-file to shell out money for paid advertisements.

"The Junior officers don't even like Reyes," they said.

It was hinted that this was perhaps done by Reyes himself, who is today in the hot seat in the Senate for his evasive answers to the Buliok attack order.

But Pimentel said he was not a nitwit to believe this rank-and-file paying for the advertisement story, saying it is quite obvious Reyes and his allies are behind this supposed propaganda specially since he himself uncovered recently that the DND chief has four public relations firms under his wing, to include the P10 million contract with Washington D.C.-based Rhoads Weber Shandwick.

"It is obvious that Reyes is engaging in a move to deflect attention from his errors and blunders in the conduct of the military operations in Mindanao and so he's trying to focus on matters that are not true. He is obviously out of touch with reality," the senator told reporters in an interview prior to his delivery of his speech.

"I would like to assume that Reyes is paying for these ads out of his own pocket but I don't think that is necessarily true. He's probably dipping into the funds of the AFP," he said. adding of the three other PR firms, one is a foreign entity like Rhoads Weber Shandwick.

When Reyes was confronted by Pimentel on the matter during the LOVFA proceedings last week at the Senate, Reyes had admitted this, implying that the services of the US-based firm were tapped by the AFP, claiming the contract sealed for one year was to ensure continued assistance by the US government to the military's needs.

Pimentel would not name the three other companies, saying he is still in the process of collating data. He noted the possibility that one of these PR firms could be behind the placing of the ads.

"Definitely we will ask him some questions about this ad when he appears before the oversight committee on the VFA which is meeting this week. He will probably answer this is not of his own making because there is no signature (in the advertisement)...but obviously it is in defense of Reyes and he's the one benefiting from it," he noted.

"If you look at the ad, they we're not being personal. They're trying to deflect the issue..he (Reyes) is entitled to that. I give him the benefit of doubt. He's doing it precisely to defend himself from my accusations but he's doing it so badly. He adds to his own problem," Pimentel said noting to reporters that the Senate is yet to terminate the Question Hour proceedings against the DND chief that started some two weeks ago.

He vowed to pursue these matter in the second hearing that is yet to be scheduled to enable him as well to air his side on the issues between them specially since he is being pictured as supposedly an enemy of soldiers.

"He's trying to say that I'm enemy of the AFP. I am not. I'm only questioning the policies of Reyes laying Mindanao to waste and I think that he's hard-put to answering that, therefore he's trying to make it appear as if I am criticizing the soldiers, not the policy that he is pursuing," Pimentel also told reporters.

"The ads are utter waste of good money because they are totally misdirected and absolutely deceptive," he said in his speech.

It was obvious that Reyes was evasive when he claimed that he had no direct involvement in the war in Mindanao as he had only given strategic advice to President Arroyo, Pimentel added in reminding colleagues on the responses made by the DND chief during the Question Hour.( By Angie M. Rosales, Tribune)


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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