By Reinir Padua Updated May 20, 2009 12:00 AM
MANILA, Philippines – More than P240 million in unused funds for the 2006 and 2007 RP-US Balikatan exercises that should have been returned to the National Treasury have turned up in a government bank, a Commission on Audit (COA) report showed.
The COA report on the Armed Forces of the Philippines said the funds in question include “the amount of unutilized remittance from the US embassy for the Balikatan exercises which was deposited and held in trust with the Land Bank of the Philippines; and the Special Financial Assistance for CAFGU (Citizens Armed Force Geographical Units) in Wesmincom.”
Wesmincom stands for Western Mindanao Command.
The COA said the unremitted funds amounted to P62.77 million in 2007 and P181.98 million in 2006 or a total of P244.7 million.
The STAR checked with the COA and was told by an emloyee, quoting auditors, that this could not be immediately classified as an irregularity. In fact, this was not included in the “Observations and Recommendations” part of the 2007 audit report on the AFP.
The audit agency has yet to come up with its report on the 2008 operations of the AFP.
The Balikatan expenses came into focus following allegations by Navy Lt. Senior Grade Nancy Gadian that more than P46 million of the funds had been misused.
Gadian had accused her superiors, particularly Lt. Gen. Eugenio Cedo, of pocketing portions of the fund. Cedo has since denied the allegation.
AFP checking COA report
The AFP said it is in close coordination with COA regarding the unremitted Balikatan funds.
Lt. Col. Romeo Brawner, AFP spokesman, said that concerned military units are examining and checking financial records in light of the COA report.
Gadian, who has been declared AWOL (Absent Without Official Leave), is being urged by her superiors to come out in the open and file formal charges against Cedo.
“She must support her allegations, otherwise, it will be nothing and therefore baseless,” Brawner said, adding that Gadian’s continued refusal to surface to submit herself to military regulations would make her liable for violations of the Articles of War.
Meanwhile, Gadian’s elder sister has asked the Supreme Court to help protect the Navy officer by issuing a writ of amparo.
Nedina Diamante also asked the SC to issue a temporary restraining order on Cedo and four active Armed Forces officials to make them “refrain from issuing or carrying out any threat to the life, liberty and security” of her sister.
The respondents in Diamante’s petition aside from Cedo were AFP chief of staff Lt. Gen. Victor Ibrado, Navy flag officer-in-command Vice Admiral Ferdinand Golez, Western Mindanao Command chief of staff Col. Joel Ibañez, and management and financial officer Lt. Col. Antonio Dacanay.
“There is a very serious threat to the life, liberty, and security of petitioner’s sister. The right to life, liberty and security of petitioner’s sister is violated or threatened with violation by an unlawful act or omission of public officials or private individuals that are under the control or supervision of respondents,” the eight-page petition stated.
“Ostensibly the threats to petitioner’s sister are meant to cow, intimidate, silence and prevent her from informing the public about the alleged corruption in the Balikatan exercises,” it added.
Diamante said her sister has gone into hiding precisely due to threats to her life from individuals who allegedly want to prevent her from disclosing what she knows about the alleged fund misuse.
She told the Court that her sister had told her in a text message about a “shoot-to-kill” order.
Diamante also revealed that unidentified suspicious-looking men had been casing their house in La Paz, Iloilo City since last week. Someone had also knocked on their door to warn them of a surveillance operation by the military.
A regional director of Iloilo-based Federation of Bantay Bayan
Foundation Inc. and former barangay council member, Diamante said they have already sought the help of Jaro, Iloilo Archbishop Angel Lagdameo, head of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines.
Party-list groups Gabriela and Bagong Alyansang Makabayan or Bayan have offered to help Gadian.
“Instead of encouragement, Gadian is now being attacked to prevent her from speaking the truth. We are asking the judiciary to protect her since the same aid could not be expected from the government, which has a long -standing record of silencing whistleblowers like Gadian whose exposé implicates its military generals,” Gabriela said in a statement.
Gadian was deputy chief of Civil Military Operations (CMO) during the Balikatan joint military exercises in Western Mindanao from 2002 to 2007.
Although she did not directly handle the CMO funds, she was responsible for their allocation.
Gadian earlier volunteered to provide the Senate with documents supporting her claim that Cedo used the month-long Balikatan in Jolo, Sulu as a “milking cow.”
Of the P46-million fund, only P2.3 million was released to Filipino soldiers, she said.
When Gadian made the exposé, the AFP announced that Gadian has been AWOL and has since been dropped from the rolls following her failure to report back to duty after her 30-day leave lapsed last April 21.
But according to her sister, Gadian was on official leave from March 9 to April 21 and that she filed her resignation from the Armed Forces last May 1.
Reports said she had repeatedly failed to attend the Efficiency and Separation Board (ESB) hearing on her case of insubordination.
Her ESB case stemmed from her refusal to face Navy investigators. – With Jaime Laude and Edu Punay
View previous articles from this author.
MANILA, Philippines—A bill is under way that would dissolve the scandal-ridden pension fund of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and pave the way for a new retirement fund for soldiers, according to Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro Jr.
But Teodoro admitted that setting up a new pension fund to replace the controversial Retirement and Separation Benefits System (RSBS) would be “more difficult.”
“The alternative, right now, is for the government to continue paying for the retirement benefits through general appropriations every year,” Teodoro told reporters on the sidelines of the Army special operations command forces capability demonstration before Brunei’s Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah on Friday at Fort Bonifacio, Taguig City.
He said the Department of National Defense had already prepared a bill that would scrap the RSBS and return the contributions to its members.
“The RSBS has to be dissolved and it can only be done by law… so we’ve already prepared for that,” he said.
The RSBS has been an alleged source of corruption in the AFP—with some of the officials, including its former president, retired Brig. Gen. Jose Ramiscal Jr., haled to the Sandiganbayan anti-graft court for anomalies in the management of the soldiers’ pension fund.
Ramiscal is facing 17 counts of graft and 12 counts of falsification of public documents in the Sandiganbayan involving more than P100 million in connection with the RSBS mess.