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Access to information under P-Noy

Some open spaces,
many closed corners

DRIFT and confusion. Some pockets of transparency but most everywhere, a predilection for opaqueness and more barriers to access in place. This is the access to information regime that lingers in the Philippines nearly a year after Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III came to power on a “Social Contract with the Filipino People,” which he said would be defined by transparency, accountability, and good governance.

But a seven-month PCIJ audit of how 27 national agencies deal with access to information requests shows spotty proof of Aquino’s recipe for good governance in the processes and practices of these agencies. While a few stand out as exemplars of transparency, the majority remain stuck in the old ways of opaque government, with some even sliding back into darker corners.

Out of the barracks and into the pits

Corruption talks trigger
worry, debates in AFP

IF MONEY is the root of all evil, particularly in the corruption-tainted Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), then perhaps the government might do well to deny soldiers access to cold cash.

At the same time, however, it must make sure that the logistics and supplies get to the battlefield in the right quantity at the right time.

Or perhaps the government might require that all military contracts for goods and services be covered by a strictly enforced electronic procurement system.

As well, if the logistics system is good and efficient, the government might ban the conversion of funds and congressional insertions in the AFP’s budget altogether.


Boots on the ground

NORTH COTABATO – While senators and generals in Manila were bickering over who got more millions in pabaon among outgoing chiefs of staff of the Armed Forces, Sergeant Rolly was wondering why his meager salary had thinned some more.

And then his pay check showed that General Headquarters (GHQ) had made deductions for several loans that he never took out.

Sergeant Rolly is just one of more than 100,000 soldiers who have kept their ears cocked to the ongoing Senate investigation into the staggering amounts that some generals have allegedly stashed away in bank accounts and prime real estate here and abroad.

Out of the barracks and into the pits

Petty, big, routine graft
a lucrative trade at AFP

EIGHT YEARS ago in 2003, the PCIJ had exposed how the soldiers themselves were arming the enemy, by selling bullets and guns at fat discounts to rebels. To make matters worse, the transactions transpired at the very heart of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) command: the General Headquarters at Camp Aguinaldo.

That early, a New People’s Army (NPA) cadre code-named Ricky visited Aguinaldo on and off to purchase wares of war from soldiers. The bullets went for P5 a pop, even though the government at the time spent P14 to make or purchase each one.

The sale of guns and bullets by some soldiers to rebel groups and warlords is an old cottage industry, according to contacts from the NPA and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). Then and now, government arsenals have become a dipping pond for rebel groups, thanks to soldiers given to making quick money.


A politicized military

IN A way, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s Cabinet toward the end of her regime could be described as “star-studded.” Arroyo, after all, had a habit of appointing retired star-rank generals to key positions in her official family.

Former Armed Forces of the Philippines AFP) vice chief of staff Eduardo Ermita served as executive secretary. Angelo Reyes and Hermogenes Esperon Jr., both former AFP chiefs of staff, handled several portfolios, while former Philippine National Police director generals Leandro Mendoza and Hermogenes Ebdane were appointed transportation secretary and public works secretary, respectively.

Out of the barracks and into the pits

On EDSA’s 25th, corruption
devours the Armed Forces

MORE THAN a decade ago, idealistic young members of the Philippine military had formed groups like the Reform the Armed Forces Movement (RAM) and the Young Officers Union (YOU) and rushed out of the barracks to defy their commander in chief, strongman Ferdinand E. Marcos. This week, the nation marks the EDSA People Power revolt, a civilian-backed military uprising that led to the ouster of Marcos and the return of democracy to the Philippines, which most Filipinos had hoped would mean a fresh, clean start not only for the armed forces, but for the entire country as well.

Indeed, for the last 25 years, the Philippines has managed to hold on to democracy, however flawed its version has been. But reforming the military has proven to be an even more difficult task.


A 25-year rebellion

“SHOULD I fail, then remember me with pride and understanding. Please do not disown me or my memory. I have lived a good and full life. I have seen the world and experienced its pains and pleasures. My only regret is that I have not served you as much as I should have.”

Those words were penned 25 years ago by a young idealistic officer who was going off to a different kind of battle. Then Army Capt. Ricardo C. Morales thought it best to write his parents a final note before he jumped into the void.

The final words of Angelo T. Reyes

A warrior comes clean
in last battle for honor

LATE evening last Feb. 4, Friday, a long-time source suddenly called. Would I be free for brunch the next day, he asked. He wanted to consult me on something important.

We met the next day and he bared his purpose: Angelo ‘Angie’ T. Reyes, the former Armed Forces chief of staff and Defense secretary, wanted to see me so he could tell his story to “an independent journalist” – would I want to interview him? The source happened to be a senior trusted associate of Angie for the last decade or so.

Now which reporter would pass up the chance to do a great interview? I was tempted to say yes at once. But I knew Angie Reyes to be a difficult source – smart, articulate, often given to intellectual musings, somewhat arrogant in manner and tone, and yes, a bit full of himself. I don’t know how he sized me up; perhaps it was just sheer luck that he had thought of PCIJ at a time he was vulnerable and under fire in the Senate for alleged corruption.


Ombudsman goes
easy on generals

WHEN IT comes to hailing to jail alleged crooks in the military and police, the Ombudsman practically accords star-rank officers a mere slap on the wrist.

Only 19 generals of the Armed Forces have actually been prosecuted for alleged corruption in the 22-year history of the Office of the Ombudsman.

Of the 19, one and only one, Maj. Gen. Carlos F. Garcia, was convicted, after pleading guilty to a lesser offense of bribery, and after securing a plea-bargain agreement to evade prosecution for plunder.

Apart from the star-rank officers, however, a big majority or eight in every 10 respondents from the Armed Forces in the cases filed by the Ombudsman since 1988 have been men of lower rank, notably sergeants and lieutenants, and a spattering of colonels.

Ma. Cecilia Flores-Oebanda

SHE CROUCHED in the foxhole that she and loyal Berto had dug with their bare hands, breathing heavily as she tried to fit her eight-month pregnant body sideways into its shallow hold. Above the roar of gunfire, she could hear the invading soldiers shout out the name that had come to be identified with her.

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