MANILA, Philippines - Some P160 million (S$4.64 million) "pabaon" (send-off money) was allotted to then Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff Diomedio Villanueva when he retired in May 2002, whistle-blower George Rabusa said Monday.
The former military budget officer said he withdrew P10 million 16 times for Villanueva on orders of his boss, then military comptroller Carlos Garcia.
Rabusa said he delivered the money to Garcia, who he assumed turned this over to Villanueva.
"I gave everything to him. The amount totaled P164 million, including a P4-million interest. He was the one who gave it to Villanueva," he said of Garcia in a phone interview.
Rabusa said he had kept copies of certifications from a manager of Security Bank on the deposits and withdrawals he made with the bank before the Anti-Money Laundering Act was enacted.
Rabusa declined to say how much retirement money Roy Cimatu, who replaced Villanueva, received, saying he would disclose this at the Senate blue ribbon committee's resumption of its hearing scheduled for this week.
In a TV interview, he said Villanueva and Cimatu received more than P50 million in send-off money, but did not specify the figures. Villanueva was AFP chief of staff for 14 months (from March 2001 to May 2002) and Cimatu for just four months (from May 2002 to September 2002).
Rabusa, however, confirmed that like Angelo Reyes, the predecessor of Villanueva and Cimatu, the two generals received P5 million in monthly take as part of the standard practice.
Rabusa said at a Senate hearing last week that Reyes' office also received another P5 monthly, which Reyes did not necessarily pocket as the amount was for office needs.
At the committee's inquiry into the plea bargain between government prosecutors and retired Major General Garcia on the latter's plunder case, Rabusa divulged the military practice of paying off the top brass.
Drawn from a payola pot, called provisions for command-directed activities (PCDA), the payoffs were given on a monthly basis and upon their retirement to key officials, including himself, he said.
On top of the monthly P5 million, Reyes was gifted P50 million when he retired in March 2001 after just 20 months in office. Villanueva and Cimatu had P10 million start-up fund each, according to Rabusa.
Rabusa said at the Senate hearing last week that he had converted almost P1 billion for the payola pot or slush fund.
Other purported beneficiaries of the fund were the Office of the AFP Vice Chief of Staff (P1.5 million plus P300,000 a month), deputy chief of staff (P1.5 million a month), and the secretary of the joint chiefs of staff (P1 million a month), according to Senate President Pro Tempore Jinggoy Estrada.
Other recipients were the senior military aide to then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, military auditor, House legislative officer, retired generals, defense press corps, surgeon general, chief nurse, janitors and gardeners.
Pocketing over P20 million
As budget officer from 2000 to 2002, Rabusa said he had been given the "discretion to spend" by both Garcia and Jacinto Ligot, the comptroller just before Garcia, and admitted to getting more than P20 million from the PCDA.
"It's not less than P20 million, but this won't reach P50 million. After all, I wasn't the main actor, only a supporting actor," he said.
When his stint as military budget officer ended in 2002, Rabusa said he had five boxes of documents burned to cover up fund misuse and keep the image of Armed Forces chiefs of staff squeaky clean.
Copies of burned papers
By a stroke of luck, Rabusa managed to keep copies of the burned documents somewhere else, which he is now presenting in the Senate and the Department of Justice to back his expose on corruption in the Armed Forces.
The documents, including fund receipts, will stand in court and will be sufficient to convict military officials, he said.
"I was the one who suggested to my boss, [Maj.] General [Jacinto] Ligot, to burn all these things. We might get into trouble. After that, we informed Secretary Reyes that everything had been fixed (naayos na lahat)," he said on the phone.
Two weeks of burning
It took two weeks "to burn everything," he said.
Estrada, who had been approached by Rabusa's lawyer on his testimony, confirmed this account to reporters.
"He had one box of documents left. But he had burned many," he told reporters. "I think he has a lot of goods left. He has a lot of ammunition left. Maybe against Secretary Reyes or the other generals concerned."
Rabusa later found out that he had kept "thousands of copies" of the burned documents, including "fund receipts" in connection with the military's use of the PCDA funds.
"These are simple receipts signed by this and that. I will be naming names of the signatories, and some of the beneficiaries of the PCDA controlled by the chief of staff," he said.
Drag down Garcia, Ligot
These pieces of evidence would "further drag down" Garcia and Ligot, both facing charges in court, Rabusa said.
"Maybe," he replied when asked if this would pin down Reyes, Villanueva and Cimatu. "Let's just wait for the hearing."
Rabusa said the documentary evidence would stand in court and be sufficient to convict officials. He, however, said he had no knowledge if then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was aware of this standard practice of payoffs to the top brass.
Rabusa's then subordinate, Col. Antonio "Sonny" Lim, could corroborate his testimony on the delivery of the dollar equivalent of P50 million to Reyes at the defense department's White House, according to Estrada.
"While seated at the roundtable, Reyes asked his guests what kind of future awaits him after his retirement. Rabusa, Lim, [Ligot], answered him, 'Perhaps, you'd become SND (Secretary of National Defense).' That's what he got after he retired," Estrada said. "That was what Colonel Rabusa narrated to me."
After the meeting, Reyes handed envelopes to Ligot and Rabusa, according to Estrada, who disclosed that the envelope for Rabusa contained $10,000.
Estrada said he would also request the blue ribbon committee to invite Lim to the next hearing.
Meeting with Reyes
Rabusa said he went to the house of Reyes in Taguig City on Jan. 22 to brief him on the "budget cycle" for the then upcoming blue ribbon committee hearing. After hours of briefing that lasted into the night, Rabusa said Reyes later handed him P10,000.
At the time, Reyes had no inkling Rabusa would also appear at the same inquiry.
Through their common lawyer, Rabusa said he had been asked to help Estrada formulate questions for Reyes at Thursday's hearing.
Both Estrada and Rabusa shrugged off the complaint filed by Reyes in the Ombudsman, saying he had the right to do this and that they would answer this at the proper time.
Estrada gave reporters a glimpse of his statement at the committee hearing on Jan. 27 when he disclosed that he had documents showing that Reyes' wife Teresita and Ligot's wife Erlinda made travels abroad using military funds.
-- Philippine Daily Inquirer/Asia News Network