Garcia faces court martial

- Nikko Dizon, Jaime Laude -
A general accused of massive corruption is to be tried by a military court, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) announced yesterday.

Former Army finance chief Maj. Gen. Carlos Garcia has already been suspended without pay for six months while under investigation by government prosecutors, who are also expected to file a separate case against him in a civilian court.

Garcia is alleged to have amassed unexplained wealth during his tenure, with his net worth believed to be in excess of $1 million.

In a related development, the United States government has requested the Bureau of Immigration (BI) to put Garcia on its watch list after his "green card" expired.

The US Department of Homeland Security sent a letter to Immigration Commissioner Alipio Fernandez dated Oct. 6, saying Garcia "is not a permanent resident of the US and should not be allowed to travel on his green card."

Ferdinand Sampol, chief immigration supervisor at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport, said the letter stated "Garcia is not entitled to continue to have in (his) possession his green card because he has been living here and working in the AFP."

The BI said Garcia’s green card, with No. A-29430514, indicates "he acquired permanent residence in the US" but that this is prohibited since Garcia is still in active military service.

Sampol said the US agency further requested that immigration officers confiscate Garcia’s green card should he present it as one of his travel documents if he tries to leave for the US.

Earlier this year, US authorities detained one of Garcia’s sons at a San Francisco airport for failing to declare $100,000 in cash he was carrying. Garcia claimed the money had been "personal loans" from relatives.

Garcia has been confined at the UST Hospital in Manila since Sunday night for obstructive sleep apnea and other ailments, but his doctor said his condition will have improved by next week. He was supposed to have been at the House defense committee hearing the following day.

The AFP said Garcia will be tried by a court martial for "offenses covered by the Articles of War under the military justice system and will be separate and distinct from charges he is facing" in civilian court.

The charges could include conduct unbecoming of an officer and fraud committed against government.

If proven guilty by the military tribunal, Garcia stands to lose all military benefits due him and will be meted punishment deemed fit by the tribunal.

Military deputy chief Vice Adm. Ariston de los Reyes has also instructed that Garcia be "restricted to quarters," even though he would be allowed full access to his lawyers.

Garcia, along with several yet unnamed officers, reportedly pocketed AFP funds at the expense of ordinary soldiers in the field, including funds from the United Nations and the US.

AFP spokesman Maj. Gen. Edilberto Adan belied these reports, saying these funds were properly accounted for.

Adan said De los Reyes’ order restricting Garcia to his quarters also states that should Garcia require medical attention in a hospital, he should be under guard.

The AFP is also filing charges against Air Force Maj. Gen. Ralph Flores before the military court for faking his birthdate, allowing him to lengthen his stay in the military service by three years.

De los Reyes, Garcia and Flores belong to Philippine Military Academy Class ’71.

Military observers claimed the filing of charges against Garcia before the military court was merely designed to appease the growing discontent within the soldiers’ ranks.

They said with little more than a month left before he retires on Nov. 18, Garcia will soon be out of the military court’s jurisdiction.

"By Nov. 19, Garcia (will have) already retired from the service and by then he will be a civilian, no longer covered by the military justice system. So we expect nothing will happen to the charges against him in the military court," a source said.

AFP public information office chief Lt. Col. Daniel Lucero said Garcia’s retirement does not mean that he will be free from public accountability because the Ombudsman still has jurisdiction over his case even after his retirement.

Ombudsman Simeon Marcelo said the military had not coordinated with his office in preparing the court-martial charges, warning that the government should be careful in handling the charges against Garcia to avoid a case of "double jeopardy."

He stated that under the law, the Office of the Ombudsman has priority in filing charges against any official.

However, he conceded that convicting officials for corruption was difficult due to a shortage of trained investigators and equipment.

Marcelo also cited tight laws protecting the secrecy of bank accounts and the court requirements for the freezing of bank accounts as complicating any investigation into hidden wealth.

He said Garcia had been one of the highest military officials to be accused of corruption, remarking "this is the test case."

Government personnel said there were rumors circulating of restiveness within the military over the possible investigation of officers for corruption.
Crackdown On ‘Corruptors’
At Malacañang, President Arroyo vowed yesterday that "corruptors at any level of the command will be brought to justice."

Presidential Spokesman Ignacio Bunye also dismissed fears raised by political analysts of possible coup attempts against her in the face of the crackdown.

Bunye cited anew Mrs. Arroyo’s instructions to spare no one if they are found culpable and that there should be "no sacred cows" in the probe.

"The exposure and investigation of graft in the AFP will put an end to low morale and destabilization," he said.

Bunye noted that Malacañang does not expect destabilization attempts, "but widespread support from within the military establishment."

"Reform will prevail over adventurism," he stressed.

Bunye said the AFP could initiate its own court-martial proceedings against Garcia. The Palace, however, prefers to have the Office of the Ombudsman be left alone to act as the "lead investigating agency" in Garcia’s case.

"Let us just allow (the Ombudsman) to be able to concentrate on this investigation because, as they say, ‘too many cooks spoil the broth.’ So it was clear that they started this investigation, they should continue with it," he said.

Bunye clarified that the Ombudsman’s investigation of this specific graft case against Garcia should not stop independent investigations by co-equal branches of government such as Congress.

"This is without prejudice to other agencies that may have jurisdiction or may have authority to investigate this matter," he said, adding that the Ombudsman "should be assisted in whatever way we can so that we can complete the investigations."

Bunye also reiterated the President’s directives to Defense Secretary Avelino Cruz and AFP chief Gen. Narciso Abaya to ensure "no cover-up, no whitewash" in the case of Garcia and all other military officials implicated in anomalies.

He said Mrs. Arroyo is satisfied with the way defense and military authorities are handling the investigation of Garcia’s case "under the standards of transparency, fairness and dispatch."

The President expects the DND-AFP to continue to act in accordance with the "best interest of the command and the public," Bunye said.

"Efforts to go after grafters and plunderers anywhere in the government will be relentlessly pursued to make them pay a steep price, and due process will be observed at all times," he added.

Lucero also downplayed rumors of another alleged coup plot by disgruntled AFP officers.

In a radio interview, he said these rumors came from text messages circulated "amidst the ongoing investigation of the alleged corruption in the military. There are groups exploiting the issue. These are people with their own personal interests who are fanning rumors to advance their own interests."

He said no plans of another coup attempt are brewing in the military, noting that many soldiers were happy because military justice was brought down high-ranking officials, even generals.

Lucero said the military will not conduct a loyalty check among its officers and men because "we still believe in the efficiency of the chain of command."

He appealed to these groups not to take advantage of the ongoing investigation of certain military officials for corruption to create public alarm and confusion.
Remaining Focused
Army chief Lt. Gen. Efren Abu, reacting to Garcia’s case, has issued a memorandum to boost soldiers’ morale.

"In view of the recent negative reports on the AFP organization that may have a demoralizing effect on the officer corps and the rank-and-file, I urge each member of the Army to remain focused in the performance of our mandated duty... serve the best interest of our country and protect our people from the enemies of the state."

He assured soldiers that the AFP’s leadership does not tolerate misbehavior by any member, whether a ranking officer or enlisted man.

"The full force of the law will be applied on anyone found guilty of violating the AFP’s code of conduct," Abu said.

He told soldiers to remain united and vigilant in adhering to the Army’s "core values" — love of country, valor, honor, loyalty, duty, solidarity.

Abu told all his commanders to "keep their men informed, ensure the lines of communication are open and the chain of command functions effectively."

Air Force chief Lt. Gen. Jose Reyes reminded those under him to maintain their integrity and keep the public trust.

"Today’s military is bound to live up to ethical standards and shall endeavor to maintain the highest state of integrity in all public dealings. In recognizing that the military is a vital part of society, it is imperative that every member must keep an image devoid of doubts bordering on malicious suspicions," he said.

He issued his reminder in a speech during the ceremonies commemorating the eleventh AFP Code of Ethics Day last Monday.

Reyes urged all Air Force personnel to live by the "three simple values" of integrity first, service before self, and excellence in everything they do "to prove detractors wrong and to stand against the scandals rocking the AFP hierarchy."

House Minority Leader Francis Escudero chided AFP officials for apparently engaging in a cover-up of the latest corruption scandal by erroneously citing national security and other regulations to hinder the gathering of evidence against corrupt military officials.

AFP officials "are warning of possible destabilization but their very actions are causing instability and restiveness within the organization," he said.

Meanwhile, administration lawmakers said Garcia’s case is no reason for some groups in the military to destabilize the Arroyo administration.

In separate statements, House Majority Leader Prospero Nograles of Davao City, Pampanga Rep. Juan Miguel Arroyo and Zamboanga del Sur Rep. Antonio Cerilles called on soldiers not to let themselves be affected by the investigation against Garcia and other military officers.

Nograles said government investigators are not singling out military personnel and that officers should welcome the investigations since these are the prerequisites to reforms and cleansing the ranks.

Surigao del Sur Rep. Prospero Pichay, on the other hand, called on all Cabinet secretaries, agency heads, members of Congress and the judiciary to take the lead in cleaning up their books to forestall another controversy similar to the ones that have the AFP reeling from charges of corruption among its officers.

He said they should focus on these issues: procurement, awards and bidding, lifestyle checks of officials, feedback from employees, removal of ghost and inefficient employees, reduction of waste and duplication of functions. — With James Mananghaya, Marichu Villanueva, Sandy Araneta, AFP

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