MANILA, December 1, 2004
(STAR) By Marichu Villanueva - In a move to stamp out corruption in the military, President Arroyo ordered the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) yesterday "to civilianize" its comptrollership function and revamp the board of directors of the Armed Forces-Police Savings and Loan Association Inc. (AFPSLAI).

She also named civilians to replace retired military generals holding five key posts in the Department of National Defense (DND).

In an official statement, presidential communications director Silvestre Afable Jr. said Mrs. Arroyo transmitted her latest directives to Defense Secretary Avelino Cruz and AFP chief Gen. Efren Abu while she was in Laos attending the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit, which wrapped up last night.

"All efforts must be done to preserve the integrity of the AFP and restore public faith in the defense and military establishments," Afable quoted Mrs. Arroyo as telling Cruz and Abu.

Mrs. Arroyo’s order to "civilianize" the military’s comptrollership function and revamp the AFPSLAI board came as a result of the scandal involving Maj. Gen. Carlos Garcia, who allegedly amassed nearly P200 million in unexplained wealth during the three years he held the post of AFP comptroller.

Garcia also withdrew P19 million he deposited with the AFPSLAI before the scandal broke early October.

At the DND, Cruz said his three new deputies will be part of a special team that will help implement the Philippine Defense Reform Program.

"The revamp reinforces the civilian character of the defense department and will speed up much-needed systemic and structural improvements to cut down corruption and improve frontline services to our soldiers," the President said.

Banker Francisco del Rosario took over from retired undersecretary for finance Feliciano Gacis. Another banker, Jose Santos, replaced undersecretary for defense acquisition Cesar Bello while lawyer Rafael Antonio Santos replaced retired undersecretary for operations Gen. Edgardo Batenga.

Del Rosario served as chairman and chief operating officer of the Development Bank of the Philippines, and chief finance officer of San Miguel Properties Philippines Inc. and other major corporations.

Jose Santos recently retired as executive vice president and head of the commercial banking group of Rizal Commercial Banking Corp.

Rafael Antonio Santos, currently a trustee of the Makati Law Foundation, has been in law practice since 1988 after graduating from the University of the Philippines College of Law as a dean’s medalist and ranked eighth in his class.

Lawyer Rodel Cruz, who will serve as undersecretary for legal and priority concerns, previously served as the chief of staff in the Office of the Chief Presidential Legal Counsel. He was ranked eighth in his class at the UP College of Law.

Completing the new DND team is lawyer Othelo Carag. He will take over from assistant secretary for finance Leticia Gloria, who is set to retire in early 2005.

The President has also expressed her full support for Abu in the ongoing investigations against misfits and scalawags in the military.

Mrs. Arroyo, through Presidential Spokesman Ignacio Bunye, said she is satisfied with the latest developments in the probes, particularly following the discovery that Garcia’s financial statements have been allegedly tampered with or replaced with fakes to conceal his alleged ill-gotten wealth.

Col. Vincent Bahia, the chief custodian of Garcia’s statements of assets and liabilities (SALs), is the latest senior military officer to be embroiled in the scandal that has put the military’s credibility into question.

In a statement, Bunye said Mrs. Arroyo is satisfied with the way the AFP leadership is handling the investigation of all controversies hounding the military.

"The overall reform program in the military will purge its ranks of misfits, further professionalize the command, and restore the trust and respect it deserves from the public," he said.

Bunye was part of the President’s official delegation for the ASEAN summit. In a phone interview with Palace reporters before flying back to Manila, he reiterated that Mrs. Arroyo desires to get to the bottom of the alleged irregularities at the AFP.

"What is important, there is an internal cleansing process and the chief of the Armed Forces is on top of it. The President supports this type of action by the AFP," he said.

Bunye said the military probes will be done in coordination with other government agencies that also have jurisdiction in these types of investigations.

He particularly referred to the criminal aspects of cases against military officials like Garcia, who is also being investigated by the Office of the Ombudsman on charges of perjury for submitting allegedly falsified SALs.

Abu had ordered the investigation of Bahia, the military’s records custodian, for possible complicity in the Garcia scandal, military spokesman Lt. Col. Buenaventura Pascual said.

Bahia headed the SALN division of the military’s Office of Ethical Standard and Public Accountability (OESPA) and was sacked after the documents were reported missing.

One of Garcia’s financial statements that allegedly contained discrepancies reportedly reappeared at the OESPA after it was reported missing.

The OESPA is the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ document custodian of SALs that all military officers and enlisted personnel are required by law to submit annually as an anti-corruption measure.

Special Prosecutor Dennis Villa Ignacio said last week the original copies of Garcia’s statements of assets and liabilities — the basis of his indictment for perjury before the Sandiganbayan anti-graft court — have been reported missing from the military’s records.

Under the rules of court, evidence submitted in court must be original documents, and if the originals are in the custody of a government official, then a certified true copy of these documents duly authenticated by the government official must be on hand.

Truth commission

Meanwhile, Sen. Ramon Magsaysay Jr. pushed yesterday for a measure creating a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to address the problem of graft and corruption in the country.

Magsaysay said his Senate Bill 1846 is intended to implement a provision in the Constitution that the "state shall maintain honesty and integrity in public service and take positive and effective measures against graft and corruption."

He said the principal objective justifying the creation of the commission is to reconcile all segments of Philippine society.

"We will seek the help of private citizens who are recognized for their probity and character to make up the commission, citizens who are knowledgeable about corruption in government as participants, and the rest of us who will ensure that it will perform its functions and duties faithfully and well," he said.

The commission shall have seven members, all Filipino citizens appointed by the President, and will be led by a chairman and deputy chairman.

Magsaysay said the commission will be tasked to produce an impartial record of graft and corruption committed after the late strongman Ferdinand Marcos was ousted in February 1986.

"It shall particularly investigate and report on the causes, nature and extent of graft and corruption committed or perpetrated to the fullest degree possible, including their antecedents, the context in which they occurred and whether or not said acts were the result of deliberate planning or policy by any government group or individual," he said.

Magsaysay said the commission will also grant immunity and help restore the credibility of perpetrators who come forward with their testimonies and evidence of graft and corruption in which they had participated.

On the other hand, Malacañang dismissed talk of a new round of Cabinet revamps reportedly planned by Mrs. Arroyo to prop up her sagging performance ratings.

Bunye, however, said there is no "specific plan" to conduct a revamp, but it is the President’s prerogative to conduct a revamp at any time as part of good governance.

He reiterated that Mrs. Arroyo’s invitation for the opposition to nominate their "best and brightest and honest" to serve in the government remains open.

Bunye also said the negative ratings the President received from the latest opinion polls "are not important to her. So whatever she does right now has nothing to do at all with the results of the surveys."

However, he clarified that this does not mean Mrs. Arroyo will ignore many Filipinos’ adverse reaction to some of her policies and programs.

"What the President is saying is she has a plan to take care of our problems and these plans have specific timetables. And they will be implemented accordingly," Bunye said.

He added that while some plans "may not be palatable to the general public, but if this will be good for our country and economy, these plans will be implemented."

Bunye apparently referred to the various proposed tax measures pending in Congress, which would raise revenues for the cash-strapped government if passed into law. — With Jose Rodel Clapano

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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