[PHOTO: LIFESTYLE CHECK: Defense Secretary Angelo Reyes submits his counter-affidavit and statement of assets and liabilities to Presidential Anti-Graft Commission member Teresita Baltazar at the PAGC office in Quezon City yesterday. - BOY SANTOS]

MALACANANG, August 13, 2003 (STAR) By Marichu Villanueva And Jaime Laude  - President Arroyo created yesterday two special task forces to investigate allegations of corruption in the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and conduct a "lifestyle check" on military and police officials.

The President’s speech jarred the Philippine National Police (PNP) into announcing that it would finally conduct the lifestyle check that Mrs. Arroyo ordered weeks ago.

The formation of the task forces were among the reforms the Chief Executive announced in a speech at the National Defense College (NDC) as she pledged to crack down on military corruption which was purportedly the cause of the July 27 "Magdalo" mutiny.

The other reforms are:

• Disallowing military comptrollers to disburse cash to field units and assigning the task to AFP chief Gen. Narciso Abaya.

• Ordering the eviction of officers "occupying (military) residences past the regulations."

• Tighter controls in the military’s procurement system.

• Institution of an "anti-coup" course in all military schools.

The President appointed her personal aide Constancia de Guzman to head one of the task forces. The members are Defense Undersecretaries Feliciano Gacis, Edgardo Batenga, Antonio Santos and Cesar Bello.

Mrs. Arroyo gave this task force one month to complete a "management audit" in coordination with the AFP’s service commanders and another month to implement the reforms.

"This task force shall later be institutionalized, through a presidential executive order, as a permanent office in the (Department of National Defense) tasked solely to review continuously AFP procurement and funds disbursement," the President said.

She empowered the task force to hire consultants who must be management or organization experts and suggested people like business leader Vicente Limlingan and former defense secretary Renato de Villa.

The President said the task force should also include members from the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) and the Commission on Audit (COA).

The President has yet to announce who will head the task force for the lifestyle checks but she noted that the task force will be coordinating with the Presidential Anti-Graft Commission (PAGC) and the deputy ombudsman for the military.

At the same time, she assured a "expeditious and thorough" investigation into charges of corruption in the AFP.

"All allegations of corruption in the Armed Forces shall be investigated expeditiously and thoroughly," she said, asking soldiers who know of such corruption to bring evidence to the Department of Justice.

"You shall be protected in your fight for the truth. There will be no whitewash or looking the other way. If there is evidence, there will be prosecution. If guilt is proven, people will go to jail whatever the rank or command," she added.

The commander-in-chief also asked all military commanders to be exemplars of command responsibility and take the blame for the actions of soldiers under their respective commands.

"The respective commanders of the coup participants should be made to feel accountability for the actions of the participants under their command," Mrs. Arroyo said at the NDC in the AFP’s Camp Aguinaldo headquarters in Quezon City.

She cited Navy Lt. Cmdr. Rosauro Sarmiento, Special Warfare Group cvommander who "resigned his command because he had committed to me the day before the coup that if even one of his men would join it, he would resign."

Reyes Explains P10-M House

Meantime, Defense Secretary Angelo Reyes went to the PAGC office in Quezon City to explain the details of the P10-million house he and his family is constructing at the AFP officers’ subdivision in Taguig.

"I came over here myself to set an example of submitting to the authority and to the investigative powers of this body," Reyes said after meeting with PAGC Commissioner Teresita Baltazar.

Reyes, who draws a salary and allowances of P50,000 as defense secretary, explained that he bought the lot on which the house is being built in the 1970s when he was a young officer.

He said he and his family decided to build a house on the lot and he applied for a P10-million loan from the Philippine Savings Bank (PSB) in August last year. He, his wife and his four unmarried sons executed three promissory notes to cover the loan.

The bank approved the loan and released P2.4 million last October, followed by P2.2 million in May and another P2.2 million in June, Reyes said, welcoming any further investigation.

Abaya also welcomed the lifestyle check and vowed that no personality, no matter how high in the AFP, will be spared from the investigation.

"I’m comfortable with it, I don’t know about the other generals," Abaya said.

PNP: Nothing To Fear

PNP Deputy Director General Virtus Gil also welcomed the lifestyle check on the PNP, saying the probe should start at the top.

Gil suggested that the probe start with top police officials who complained earlier this year of having been victimized by pyramid scams in which they supposedly invested millions.

"We are taking this order seriously to save the institution from deepening public distrust," Gil said. "It is high time the PNP leadership takes a proactive role in the conduct of the anti-graft investigations."

Gil explained that the PNP’s investigative expertise should be harnessed in looking at hidden assets, including losses in investments "like the pyramid scams and expenses in media promotions reported to reach about a million a month."

PNP spokesman Director Ricardo de Leon said the lifestyle check will definitely include but not be limited to officers.

"Everybody will be checked. Not only the officers but the rest of the rank and file as well," de Leon said.

Camp Crame sources claimed, however, that senior military and police officials are scrambling to move into their old homes and have started using old cars to hide their unexplained wealth.

"They have hidden their Ford Expeditions. Others have moved back to their old homes so their riches will not be uncovered," one sources said in Pilipino.

New Auditing Rules

Budget Secretary Emilia Boncodin on Tuesday said that immediately after the siege, she met with Reyes and Abaya and agreed that "this is now the time for us to face this problem squarely."

She said the DBM and COA will set up a new system led by civilians to help overhaul the military’s bidding system.

Several committees would be set up, led by officials in a rotation basis, to oversee the awarding of military supply contracts. A task force will also be created to help in the accounting of military articles, Boncodin said.

"Sometimes familiarity will not breed something good," Boncodin told ABS-CBN television.

"We have created a task force and the task force started meeting last week to look at new (auditing) procedure that is going to fit the military."

"We have to be able to innovate and look for a way that they will (meet) their requirement without them violating any accounting (procedures)," she said. "There will always be some problems associated with it because it would be a matter of trust." — With Mike Frialde, news services

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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