Feliciano Commission Report: A year after

This October 17th, it will be exactly one year since the report of the fact-finding commission created to investigate the Oakwood Mutiny of July 27, 2003, popularly known as the Feliciano Commission, was released.

Headed by retired Supreme Court Justice Florentino Feliciano, the Commission’s mandate was to investigate and "evaluate all the facts and circumstances surrounding the rebellion, its roots, and the provocations that inspired it".

But the cases of Gen. Carlos Garcia and other allegedly corrupt AFP generals and high-ranking officers have rekindled serious questions as to what, concretely, has been done about the Report.

Or has that eminently readable tome been relegated to a dusty corner of some obscure library’s collection of sundry materials, read only by devotees of historical exotica, and now squirreled away in storage bins to languish in abject anonymity?

If you listen to retired Navy Commodore Rex Robles, one of the members of the Feliciano Commission, the Report may have suffered that ignominious fate. Rex likens the AFP to a house, infested by termites and inhabited by greedy generals, which is near collapse, bringing the rest of Philippine society with it.

His mixed metaphor aside, Rex is saying that corruption persists and remains essentially unacted upon in the AFP. Corruption has become so deep-seated, so ordinarily habitual, that the organization by itself may be incapable of controlling, let alone ending, it.

Omerta, cover-up, whitewash and stone-walling seem to have become the rule, not the exception. And now Rex has reportedly been told by some of his former colleagues to shut up.

However, Robles commended the military for its long-term efforts to address corruption. How long that term would be Rex did not say. Nor did he say if the termite-infested house would still be standing by then.

Rex reflects the popular perception. AFP public information officers who insist on calling these corruption scandals "isolated cases", or the work of a few incorrigible scalawags, have seen their credibility sink to an all-time low.

Malacañang and the AFP hierarchy continue to delude the public with such soap operas as the stiffly staged "apology" of some Oakwood leaders to their boss of bosses. Even as an exercise in propaganda, this zarzuela was a certified stinkeroo. If Palace and AFP strategists thought they took even one small step toward addressing those "roots" and "provocations" cited in the Feliciano Commission Report, they are deeper into la-la land than I thought.

Just look at this problem of systemic corruption. Let’s leave to future columns the Feliciano Commission’s recommendations on, say, the graft-ridden Armed Forces Retirement and Benefits System, or the failed AFP modernization, or the decrepit state of AFP medical services. Let’s also defer discussion of what the Commission euphemistically termed the "inadequacies of AFP housing for officers and enlisted personnel".

Those "inadequacies" can actually be reduced to a few sensitive questions: How come long-retired officers, some of whom now hold high government office, still occupy AFP housing? Why do some officers, both retired and still in active service, own properties titled in their personal names at areas located, for example, right outside Forbes Park? How come some officers own several properties in former military reservations, whereas others not so lucky have none at all after a full career of distinguished and untainted service?

Apropos of these questions, Annexes "J" through "O" of the Commission’s Report make particularly riveting reading. I suggest you peruse them.

But we digress.

Regarding corruption in the AFP’s procurement system, the main source of the loot of crooked officials, the Feliciano Commission analyzed certain practices which have become institutionalized in the system. Last time, we dealt with "conversion", a term which has become notorious in the Garcia case.

The Report also went into such phenomena as "centrally managed funds," the 30 percent of maintenance and other operating expenses (MOOE) withheld and treated as "contingency funds" subject to the control of AFP headquarters and commanders of major service units.

There is "washing" or the laundering of funds through a sort of mutual help process whereby friendly commanders assist a commander of another unit in converting allocated funds to cash.

Also, the familiar "rigged bidding". And "splitting of purchase orders", where goods to be procured are divided into several PO’s, each of which is carefully calculated to fall within the signing authority of the commander of the service units.

That these practices still thrive suggests that the recommendations of the Feliciano Commission have been ignored, or given merely lip service. There may have been some token measures adopted by the AFP, but the roots of corruption have not been adequately addressed.

Reform certainly cannot happen overnight. That’s the mantra of military spokesmen in response to allegations of indifference and dilatoriness in implementing anti-corruption steps.

The problem, whenever these scandals in the AFP break out, is that the military leadership’s lack of resolute action, notwithstanding public declarations of undying commitment to the cause of reform, stand out in bold relief.

The real tragedy with high-level commissions such as the Feliciano Commission, and the Davide Commission which looked into the 1989 coup attempt, is that their astute findings and recommendations, arrived at after lengthy hearings and great expense to taxpayers, are largely swept under the rug.

Rex Robles, albeit now tight-lipped, was probably right: The AFP is really termite-infested and that house, even without an Intensity 6.6 earthquake, may collapse of its own weight. Unless . . . well, unless what?

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