From military deputy chief for comptrollership to convict, the journey has been a long one for retired Maj. Gen. Carlos F. Garcia. The highest ranking military officer to be indicted for a criminal offense, Garcia nearly managed to retire in peace in 2004, with his colleagues in the Armed Forces of the Philippines seemingly reluctant to go after a two-star general on accusations of corruption. But the Ombudsman at the time, Simeon Marcelo, doggedly worked to pin down Garcia. In the end, Garcia was court-martialed and faced several criminal cases before the Sandiganbayan.
Yesterday, over five years after Garcia’s son was apprehended by US Customs authorities at the San Francisco airport for failure to declare $100,000 in cash, the disgraced general was convicted of perjury by the anti-graft court. Though the maximum sentence of two years was less than the time Garcia has already spent in detention, the conviction for failure to declare P7 million in his account with the AFP Savings and Loan Association Inc. could strengthen the bigger case against him for forfeiture of undeclared wealth.
Garcia was indicted over a year after junior military officers staged a curious mutiny in a posh Makati hotel to denounce, among other things, corruption in the AFP. Garcia’s court-martial was complemented by a major overhaul of the procurement process in the AFP and Department of National Defense. Under the reform program, red tape was cut and transparency in bidding and procurement promoted. The AFP and DND must not go back on those reforms and must in fact work to strengthen them.
In December 2005, a military court found Garcia guilty of undeclared wealth. He was dishonorably dismissed from the AFP and sentenced to two years of hard labor. The Sandiganbayan, for its part, must speed up its resolution of the other cases against Garcia. The two-star general found himself in trouble after his wife Clarita, coming to the defense of their son, explained in writing to US Customs authorities that the $100,000 came from her husband’s miscellaneous earnings as a comptroller. This is one of the rare cases where efficient prosecution has led to the conviction of a big fish. With more cases like this one, crooks in government may finally realize that in this country, not everyone can get away with crime.
Updated February 19, 2009 12:00 AM