In the aftermath of the Oakwood mutiny last year, Armed Forces Chief of Staff Narciso Abaya admitted that there was indeed corruption in the military. While military corruption is no longer news, and the admission did not surprise anyone, General Abaya did say as well that the corruption was “not only at the highest levels (of the Armed Forces). I admit that there is graft and corruption at all levels even down to the company commander level.”

General Abaya, however, drew the line at admitting that the Philippine military was one of the most corrupt in the Asia-Pacific region, as reported by the New York Times. Perhaps because it’s one of the most corrupt in the world rather than just in the region?

No matter. If there is corruption at the company commander level, it would not compare to the corruption at the highest levels of the military. One can imagine captains engaged in such penny-ante scams like delaying enlisted men’s salaries chafing at the bit for their turn at the big time in AFP Headquarters–where, they must recently have heard, the lifestyle of a general could equal that of a rock star or a Hollywood matinee idol.

Although there must be other cases captains and below have heard of, the current Exhibit A to prove that you too can live like a king and go world-class all the way on a general’s salary is General Carlos F. Garcia, former comptroller of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

Accused by the Ombudsman of dishonesty, gross misconduct, and conduct prejudicial to the interest of the service, from an undisclosed venue the now elusive General Garcia (he’s not in hiding, says the AFP Vice Chief of staff, who says he saw him recently) has begged the media not to try him by publicity, and is supposedly preparing his defense.

But even before his trial before the ombudsman–where he could also be charged with plunder–it does already look bad for the general, and it wasn’t through any effort by the AFP leadership. Testifying before the Senate defense committee the other day, the AFP’s Vice Chief of Staff, Vice Admiral Ariston de los Reyes, said that while the AFP leadership had heard rumors about Garcia, it had no evidence.

It was in fact the US Customs Service which provided the evidence to charge him with the offenses. US Customs authorities had caught a son of Garcia at the San Francisco California airport last year with 0,000 in undeclared cash. To recover the money, Garcia’s very own better half, Mrs. Clarita Garcia, contested the seizure by saying that she had herself brought in the same amount in the past.

In a sworn statement to the US Customs Service, she also admitted to–no, boasted of– living high on the hog on the gifts that grateful contractors have been giving the good general, as well as on the perks that certain generals and their families in this poverty- stricken country enjoy over lesser mortals, among them a 16,000-liter gasoline allowance, a security detail, five drivers, a military cook, and God knows what else.

While the latter is damning evidence, not of criminal wrong doing, but of the privileges of rank, if true Mrs. Garcia’s admission that her husband had received gifts and “gratitude” from certain foreign and Philippine military contractors means that General Garcia had favored them over others, and was thus in violation of the AFP procurement process.

While Mrs. Garcia did not seem to see anything wrong with those contractors’ gift-and “gratitude”-giving, the practice of favoring certain contractors in exchange for what is known in the AFP and among military contractors as “the cost of money” (meaning bribes in the form of expensive gifts as well as cash) has meant the overpricing of the equipment, supplies and services these contractors provide.

The “cost of money” is added to the actual cost of the equipment or supplies, which, of course, the taxpayers end up shouldering. Poor quality equipment for the soldiery is the worst result, however, since to maximize profits, favored contractors often provide inferior equipment and supplies, among them guns that jam and boots that fall apart.

Military contractors who want to win the sometimes huge contracts for equipment and supplies set aside huge sums for pay-offs, says the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (in “Corruption in military procurements,” By Ed Lingao, 2001). The amounts range from the usual 30 percent to 100, even 200 percent of the actual cost.

And how huge can the contracts be to merit these efforts to win them? In 2001, still according to PCIJ, then AFP Chief of Staff Angelo Reyes and then Air Force Chief Lt. General Benjamin Defensor signed a P2.1 billion for the purchase of four second-hand C-130 planes and two scanners. The contract was put on hold, but we don’t know if it has since been implemented. And we’ll probably never know–unless some foreign agency like the US Customs Service tells us.

In the same year, the Marines purchased Kevlar helmets and submachine guns for millions of pesos. The helmets were supposedly sourced from eight companies that later turned out to be owned by one person, while the submachine guns–the high end German company Heckler and Koch’s MP5 model widely used by the world’s major armed forces–“somehow” disappeared.

It is presumed, although the AFP has so far not launched any investigation into the “disappearance,” that the submachine guns ended up in the black market, where they were auctioned off to the highest bidders.

While the exact number of the HK MP5s is unavailable, they were meant for a Marines security unit, which at the least would have numbered 90 to 100 men. Since an HK MP5 costs at least $2,000 dollars in the open market, one can easily estimate how much they could have gone for in the black market–and the millions those who stole them made in this one instance alone.

As comproller of the AFP Garcia was charged with approving the entire Armed Forces’ expenditures, which of course include procurements. Presumably his signature was at the top of the 136 signatures that every military contractor has to get to receive payment–and to get which, claim the contractors PCIJ talked to in 2001, they have to fork over varying amounts. No wonder that, according to Mrs. Garcia, the contractors were giving her husband gifts in gratitude for his help in seeing to it that they were paid quickly.

The Garcia case, if true, would of course validate claims of corruption in the Armed Forces. But it is also a special case because the extent of military corruption, as suggested by the lifestyles those accused of it live, had not been previously known. Thanks to her son’s indiscretion and Mrs. Garcia’s boast, however, it does seem as if the corruption among the “protectors of the people” could be huge enough to equal anything a mere congressman or senator–or even a government corporation executive–could ever devise. In short, this is first-, even world-class rather than just Asian-class corruption.

In addition to the children’s living in the United States, traveling first-class and carrying with them hundreds of thousands of dollars each time, General Garcia and family also own a condominium unit at the Trump Tower in New York’s Fifth Avenue and another unit on East Avenue of the same city, said Senator “Jinggoy” Estrada. The general also owns a house in Ohio, alleged Estrada.

Estrada mentioned the three properties in arguing for the filing of a plunder charge against Garcia for accumulating wealth in the US worth at least $1.4 million.

“At least” is correct. A Trump Tower condominium, the last time I heard, was going for $1.75 to $5 million. A house in Ohio would probably we worth much less, but if the general indeed owns all that real estate in the United States, it would amount to considerably more than the P50 million in unexplained wealth that the law stipulates as the minimum amount for anyone to be sued for plunder.

In the meantime, here are two questions for the Armed Forces of the Philippines, as its soldiers make do in the field with rubber slippers instead of boots, P250 monthly salaries, and P60 daily meal allowances:

(1)Wasn’t the lifestyle of the Garcias–and those of quite a number of other officers–sufficiently lavish for anyone to suspect that something was fishy somewhere? Or is that lifestyle so ordinary among generals and even colonels that it is regarded as normal, which would suggest that the government’s been checking lifestyles in the wrong places?

(2) What’s this about “no evidence” when anyone sincerely interested in rooting out corruption can easily check Statements of Assets and Liabilities against other records, among them those of the Securities and Exchange Commission (for businesses unmentioned in the SALs), the Motor Vehicles Office (for vehicles similarly not mentioned) and in the municipalities where government officials reside (for houses and lots undeclared in the SALs)?

Luis V. Teodoro

Prof. Luis V. Teodoro is a former dean of the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication, where he used to teach journalism. He writes political commentary for BusinessWorld.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *