Thu, Feb 10, 2011 - Page 5 News List

Philippine graft testimony continues

MILITARY CORRUPTION:A former commander who killed himself on Tuesday and two other leaders allegedly received huge payoffs from funds that were embezzled from the army

AP, MANILA

A former budget officer said yesterday he would keep testifying against Philippine generals implicated in a corruption scandal despite the suicide of an ex-military chief.

Retired General Angelo Reyes, who also was a former defense chief, fatally shot himself in the chest with a pistol at his mother’s grave on Tuesday after he and two other ex-military chiefs of staff were accused of pocketing millions of dollars in funds intended for troops salaries, a hospital and combat needs, officials said.

Corruption, long entrenched in Philippine society, is an especially explosive issue in the inadequately equipped and poorly paid 120,000-strong military and has sparked several insurrections in the last two decades by disgruntled troops.

“I started this and I’ll finish it,” former military budget officer Lietenant-Colonel George Rabusa told the ABS-CBN network.

He said at least four retired generals, including two former military chiefs of staff, could be charged with plunder based on evidence in his possession.

Rabusa’s lawyer, Noel Malaya, said dozens of retired and active military personnel and some government auditors who took bribes to overlook massive corruption could also be held liable if the Department of Justice decides to charge them.

In startling testimony before the Philippine Senate last month, Rabusa claimed that Reyes and two other former military chiefs received huge payoffs and “send-off money” when they retired. He said the money came from an -illegal contingency fund collected from key military units, which were forced to cut their congressionally approved budgets for troop salaries, weapons, equipment and combat needs.

Rabusa said that military officials padded budgets for annual US-Philippine military war exercises in at least 2001 and 2002 so they could divert the excess amount to the illegal fund. As a result, the counterpart fund contributed by the US military for the exercises was also in excess, he said.

Rabusa said he did not know what happened to the additional US payment and was ready to help US authorities if they decide to investigate.

The US embassy did not specifically react to Rabusa’s claim, but said without elaborating that US authorities ensure foreign financial assistance and grants are used properly by conducting audits.

Rabusa testified that Reyes received about US$1 million when he stepped down. He said he personally delivered the money to Reyes, and that it first had to be converted into US dollars because the peso equivalent was too bulky.

A stunned Reyes denied accepting money during the Jan. 27 Senate hearing, but also declared: “I’m not a saint.”

He later filed charges against Rabusa and a senator he accused of conspiring to malign him.

Another retired military chief implicated in the scandal, Roy Cimatu, denied receiving any payoff. Cimatu returned on Tuesday from Egypt, where he helped prepare evacuation plans for Filipinos in the restive country.

Like Reyes, Rabusa said he considered committing suicide by driving his car into a Manila river, but thought his family would suffer and become the target of investigations.

He said he wept after learning about the death of Reyes, who was very close to him. He added that he should not be blamed.

“I did not kill him. He took his own life,” Rabusa said.

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