MANILA, Philippines – New allegations that former Philippine military chiefs benefited from massive corruption led to calls Wednesday for the government to get serious about reforming the armed forces.
Corruption is an explosive issue in the 120,000-strong military and has sparked several rebellions in the last two decades by disgruntled soldiers, who have struggled with a dearth of weapons and equipment while battling communist and Muslim insurgencies along with threats from al-Qaida-linked Filipino militants.
In startling testimony during a Senate investigation last week, retired military budget officer Col. George Rabusa claimed that huge amounts had been diverted from key military units into a kitty for all kinds of illegal payoffs.
Among the recipients of the unaudited payoffs were past military chiefs of staff who each month collected millions of pesos (tens of thousands of dollars) for personal use plus huge "send-off" money when they retired, he said.
Rabusa alleged that former military chief Angelo Reyes, who attended the hearing, was among the recipients of the payoffs, which had to be converted into dollars because the peso equivalent was too bulky.
Rabusa said under oath he was among the officers who delivered money to Reyes when he headed the military from 2001 to 2003 — including more than $1 million when he stepped down. Rabusa also acknowledged that he benefited from the illegal funds.
Reyes angrily confronted Rabusa and early this week filed graft charges against him and a senator whom he accused of conspiring to malign him.
On Tuesday, former government auditor Heidi Mendoza separately testified at the House of Representatives that the military funds lost to corruption included U.N.-provided money intended for Filipino peacekeepers on overseas missions.
Breaking into tears, Mendoza sought government protection for her and her family. During the House hearing, five retired military chiefs denied receiving any payoffs.
Former marine Col. Ariel Querubin, detained for more than four years for alleged involvement in a 2006 plot to overthrow former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo over corruption allegations, said he was hopeful that her reformist successor, Benigno Aquino III, would take steps to end graft in one of Asia's most ill-equipped militaries.
"If the idealist junior officers won't see any change ... there may be some group who may become restive again," he told The Associated Press.
Aquino said he longer is surprised by new allegations of military corruption because there have been so many. He told reporters he has ordered aides to assess government efforts to prosecute suspects.
Another prominent coup suspect during Arroyo's time, former army Brig. Gen. Danilo Lim, said many soldiers are happy that corruption is being exposed. "Now they understand why we rose in protest before," he said.
The Association of Generals and Flag Officers Inc., a group of about 700 retired and active military and police generals, said it backed the ongoing congressional investigations.
The government also said it will support the probes. The Department of Justice has temporarily placed Rabusa and Mendoza under its witness protection program.
Sen. Francis Pangilinan, an Aquino ally, urged soldiers to view the scandals as an opportunity to clean up the military so they can have "new boots, housing and education for your children."