Cash for cops & soldiers

IN ONE of the many raids conducted by government troops on the Ampatuan properties after the 2009 Maguindanao massacre, investigators came across a black bag containing a bundle of papers. In it were an assortment of official documents, including land titles, credit card statements, and even divorce papers all belonging to former Maguindanao Governor Datu Andal Ampatuan Sr., the patriarch of the Ampatuan clan.

What got the attention of the investigators was a bunch of handwritten notes listing what appeared to be large amounts allocated to senior police and military commanders assigned, not just in Maguindanao, but in the entire Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). Among the names were those of prominent generals from army divisions in the region, as well as provincial and regional police officers.

The police and military commanders and units in the list were divided into three: the island provinces of Sulu, Basilan, and Tawi-Tawi; Maguindanao; and Lanao del Sur and Marawi. The commanders were also broken down by ranks and positions: division commanders, brigade commanders, and battalion commanders; as well, regional and provincial police chiefs, and some city chiefs of police.

The notes indicate that amounts of up to P500,000 were appropriated for each of the division commanders and the head of the military command, P200,000 for regional police chiefs, and P100,000 for provincial police chiefs and army brigade commanders. The list goes all the way down to battalion level, with P50,000 listed for each of the battalions distributed throughout the area.

The grand total listed at the bottom of one of the pages: P4.3 million. Beside that total, also written by hand, is the name Bapa Teng, or Uncle Teng. Another list of allocations for the same commanders, but this time with differing amounts, was written on another set of papers with the note “c/o Jr.” That second list of allocations amounts to more than P2 million.

A source close to the Ampatuan family told PCIJ that Bapa Teng is a member of the Ampatuan clan whom it uses as a “liaison” to the police and military commanders in both Maguindanao and ARMM. The amounts listed are likely to be the monthly disbursements that the family gives out to local commanders as goodwill money, the source added.

It is not clear from the list alone if the amounts were meant to be disbursements for the personal use of the police and military commanders, or for official use by their units in the performance of their official peace and order functions. The military has repeatedly said that it worked closely with the Ampatuans in the past because of the assistance the clan gave military commanders in combating the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in the area, both through logistics and manpower support.

The handwritten list recovered from the Ampatuan properties would almost certainly have no probative value in a court of law. It does, however, offer a startling glimpse into how the clans capture and compromise government institutions in areas like these, institutions that are supposed to act as checks and balances against abuse in the first place. Too, these disbursements illustrate that grey area that has largely defined, or more accurately, muddled, the troubled relationship between the national government and the institutions that represent it, and the clans that claim to represent their constituents.

In the case of the Ampatuan clan, the family that rose to preeminence during the long reign of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, the clan has shown mastery in wielding its clout on both the national and local level, by “capturing” local military and police commanders into its fold, and by playing on the needs, interests, and insecurities of Manila.

Retired Lt. Gen. Raymundo Ferrer, who served as Maguindanao’s martial law administrator after the 2009 Maguindanao Massacre, is one of the eight brigade commanders named in the handwritten notes (each brigade commander had an allocation of P100,000). Ferrer was brigade commander for the 103rd army brigade in Basilan before he was appointed commander of the 6th infantry division in Maguindanao in 2007.

Ferrer acknowledges the existence of “Bapa Teng,” saying Teng would introduce himself to ranking officials as a “special liaison” of the Ampatuans to the military and police commanders in the area. “What I know is that he is Sukarno Teng,” says Ferrer. “He claims to be the liaison of the Ampatuans with the military.”

But Ferrer says he does not know if Bapa Teng handed out money to military commanders during the reign of the Ampatuans.

Told he was in the list of brigade commanders who received P 100,000, Ferrer says he never received any cash from the Ampatuans or their aides. Ferrer adds that he is not aware of any other military officer who has accepted cash from the clan. “I suspect this is how they liquidate money from the old man,” he says. “They list down all the military commanders, and then they tell the old man that this is how much we need for them monthly. Some people make money out of it.”

He admits, however, that the military and police units in the area had long been compromised by their association with the clans of Maguindanao. It is an association that was in part reinforced and cemented by the clan’s own relationship with a “higher authority” in faraway Manila.

But the greater impact of the disbursements reflected in the list are more subtle than obvious; regardless of whether the money is a payola or financial assistance for operations, the recipient military commanders are now tethered to the donor in a system that values face-saving and the protection of honor at all costs.

“They subtly call it monthly support, allowance, assistance, etcetera,” says one high-ranking active-duty officer who had also been assigned to the area before. While it would be up to the unit commanders to decide if the money goes to operations or their own pockets, the mere receipt of monthly “support” from the clan would already put the local commanders in an awkward position.

“You are beholden to whomever is your source of support,” the officer says. This practice was also prevalent in Davao during the time of President Ferdinand Marcos, he says. Rich businessmen would give “assistance” to the local Constabulary commanders for “goodwill,” the unspoken agreement being the commanders would come to their assistance if the businessman gets into any kind of trouble.

“As a matter of policy, it is not allowed,” the officer says. “As for ethical standards, it is not allowed. But since it is an unwritten understanding, some take advantage of it.”

“That is why some unit commanders were keeping silent, they did not utter a word because they also benefitted from the Ampatuans,” he says. “The family held them by their nose.”

In addition, the disbursements are unlikely to have come from official sources, since local government units do not have any fund mechanisms to directly support military operations in their areas. Consequently, any debt of gratitude is to be owed, not to the local government unit, but to the politician who provided the funds.

Assuming the unit commanders are honest enough to spend the money for military operations, the fact that the money came from sources outside the military chain leaves too much room for corruption and manipulation. Notes the officer: “There is no accountability or auditing involved with the money, so they can just write it off.”

Interestingly, the list of allocations to military and police officers that was dug up in Maguindanao in 2010 appeared to have been drawn up around the same period when President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo was said to have counted on the Ampatuan clan and the military to deliver the votes in Maguindanao. A cross referencing of the names of the senior military and police officials in the list against the positions they were holding showed that the list may have been drawn up between 2004 and 2005.

The issue would blow up in the face of both the former President and the Philippine military in 2005 with the emergence of the “Hello, Garci” tapes, where allegedly wiretapped phone conversations had someone who curiously sounded like Arroyo seeking assurances from then Commission on Elections Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano of a minimum lead of one million votes over her Presidential rival, Fernando Poe Jr. In the end, Arroyo won over Poe by a lead of 1.1 million votes.

The military was far from the disinterested observer of local and national politics during this period, as reflected in the number of senior military officers who were implicated in the wiretapped phone conversations. In fact, at least one general mentioned in the “Hello, Garci” recordings also appears in the recently uncovered list as a commander of one of the army divisions in the area.

During the hearings by the military inquiry into the “Hello, Garci” scandal, then Task Force Hope commander and Lt. Gen. Rodolfo Garcia said it was clear that AFP personnel had been involved in anomalies in the 2004 elections. “We have to accept it that our officers have been involved in this. Let us not joke (sic) ourselves or try to delude ourselves in the idea na walang nangyayari because in fact things are happening,” Garcia told the inquiry headed by Vice Admiral Mateo Mayuga.

The issue came to a head when two marine officers, Brig. Gen. Francisco Gudani and Lt. Col. Alexander Balutan disobeyed a direct order from Arroyo and testified before a Senate committee that they had been ordered by higher military command to “slacken” security in the May 2004 elections in Central Mindanao, leaving the door open for massive cheating. In addition, Gudani told the Senate Committee on Defense that he received information that huge cartons of cash had been flown into the region by then First Gentleman Mike Arroyo in order to influence the results of the polls.

In fact, the military’s involvement in alleged cheating in the 2004 presidential race continues to rankle with some officers nine years later. “They think so lowly of us, that they want to turn us into cheats,” says one grizzled combat officer who had been assigned to Mindanao in 2004. “ I cannot forget the faces of my colleagues who had died in the war, yet when election day comes, they just hold us by the neck and try to turn us into cheats.”

The officer says he was aware the ballot counting was purposely delayed in ARMM in 2004 so that officials in Manila could first see the national trend and determine what had to be done to catch up. “They count the ARMM votes last, so they can establish the trend first,” he says. “There are times when they use the military camps and bring the ballot boxes there. The AFP becomes an instrument for cheating.”

He comments with visible disgust: “You fight and die to preserve your honor and dignity, and then they teach you to cheat for them.” — PCIJ, April 2013