WAYWARD AND FANCIFUL: General accounting By Gail Ilagan

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/3 Feb) – Reacting to my tongue-in-cheek take on the IPSP recently (see How to legitimate a military takeover), a retired officer emailed to say,

“I have been in our military for 30 years before I joined the private sector. Most of the men I worked with only have unquestioning dedication to their jobs, including doing the jobs of the civilians. It is the high-ranking officers we need to watch out for as I do not think the problem of corruption embedded in the system has gone away. In this sense, it would be a waste to see the gains for the AFP and the nation – painstakingly being accomplished by the lowly man in uniform, even at the cost of his life – squandered by the ‘corrupt’ image of wayward generals and colonels.”

Two weeks later, corrupt generals and colonels became the talk of the town, as a retired AFP budget officer enlightened his former superior, erstwhile AFP Chief of Staff Angelo Reyes, how the AFP coffers were bled during Reyes’ time. While the rest of us listened in, George Rabusa also explained why Reyes can still claim he doesn’t know. He said Reyes had instructed the Comptroller boys not to bother him with the details. So I guess, Reyes did not know what Antonio Trillanes IV and company knew that moved them to undertake the Oakwood mutiny and demand for Reyes’ ouster in 2003.

It was the Oakwood rebellion that turned my sights to military psychology. It wasn’t hard to switch. As a social psychologist, I analyze how the individual influences – and is influenced by – the group. Applying such to soldier behavior in the organizational context merely narrows the field of specialization. Then, too, I was raised in a military home. The military context is not a foreign culture.

In the dying gasps of the Marcos era, the call to reform the AFP from within was born. There are no secrets in the military, and those within who were in the know made efforts from within to correct the system. Over the years, these efforts had been inadequate to fully transform the AFP back to health. While the defunct Reform the AFP Movement (RAM) back in the mid-80s did much in sending the dictator packing for the beaches of Hawaii, the change in political regime did little to change the financial mismanagement in the AFP.

The transcript of an interview I did on 13 December 2003 with one of the strategists of the 1989 Makati siege touched on AFP conditions during Cory’s time. In part, it reads:

“The people occupying certain positions do not deserve their positions. Why put in command someone who has had no combat duty? The ones who get to be commanders come from Comptroller or Finance. Imagine what kind of decisions they make?”

I imagine. No combat duty means they don’t really know what it’s like to patrol the mountains in battered boots. They don’t know what it’s like to confront the enemy not knowing whether the bullets in your gun would fire or, worse, not having any bullet at all. They don’t know what it’s like when you’re bleeding to death and the medevac couldn’t come because the helicopter is not airworthy. What comptrollers do know, however, is how to move the money around.

Strategies for moving AFP money around was so enticing that in the greedy 1990s, positions in the finance department of the AFP was a coveted career track among the young officers. Instead of going to the frontlines, many among them rushed back to the classroom to earn their MBAs.

My source had spent a lot of time on combat assignments. He appreciated how someone up there ought to be able to cut the red tape and get to his unit operational funds when he needed it. He explained how systemic conditions made young officers like him party to financial sleight of hand. He said,

Conversion of funds is a necessary evil because that is how the AFP budget is configured. At one time, my unit had an operational budget of PhP6,000. After conversion, we’d receive PhP4,500. I guess if you wanted the whole PhP6,000 you had to wait. When you’re out there, you can’t afford to wait so…”

In his time, a fourth of the expenses for foot soldiers was bled off even before it got to the unit commanders. The foot soldiers did not quibble; they had bigger worries out there in the field. But, back to the transcript, he said,

How would a foot soldier feel coming to HQ and seeing the snazzy cars of the officers? Then you hear that these people spend as much as PhP35,000 one-time nightclubbing with GROs. And there you are, you can hardly put your children to school and you are rotting away in the jungles…”

The succession of leadership changes in the AFP did little to stem corruption. Reports of overpriced construction, Boracay resthouses for generals, and procurement of substandard equipment made us gasp when they hit the headlines. These exposés, however, did not lead to audit that brought the vampires to account. (Ask ex-state auditor Heidi Mendoza whose word continues to be disputed by the Ombudsman.) Instead, they led to reassignment and gag orders on querulous officers who dared express criticism over the select Plebes and Cavaliers e-group.

The late Rene Jarque died before he could see the hoped-for end to his crusade for fiscal transparency in the AFP. I don’t believe Jarqs and Rabusa were friends.

My recent opinion poll on Rabusa, who in his dying days seeks to buy his way into heaven by making a clean breast of his role in stealing money meant for soldiers better than him, has him painted as having been “trained and nurtured” by a generation of officers. That is to say he did not become bad on his own. The system allowed it.

(Ah, some remain a gentleman even when talking about a crook. So unlike that fishwife of a senator who still has to learn good manners. Di bale, pogi naman daw ang bastos, sabi ni Maid Miriam.)

Someone less kind remembers Rabusa the Untouchable who was supposedly the most privileged bonehead there was in the AFP. I don’t exactly know what a bonehead is, but I can guess.

A friend of mine reacts to the bombshell on the missing UN Peacekeeping money. I won’t hide his identity because he gave me the okay last year to call him by name in this column. He told me that while helping me climb up the wall, literally.

Col. Ramon Yogyog is a legend in his own right. He once had the Army issuing a statement to the effect that his view on soldiers and CAFGU volunteers running for barangay captain as a counterinsurgency measure is not official Army policy. I believe that was his GSC thesis that he needed to get over and done with so he could leave for a UN mission. He left the manuscript for binding at a photocopy stall in UP Diliman where, obviously, bootleg copies were made without his knowledge.

A word from Yogi Bear gets in a good laugh. Nothing shakes his happy disposition – not even when he is writing in from the tightest spots in Jolo or wherever. He was with the 51-strong Philippine humanitarian contingent that had to be brought home a month early when Iraqi freedom fighters grabbed a Filipino truck driver in July 2004 and threatened to behead him. I remember there were jokes then that UN wouldn’t pay since our troops pulled out early.

Yogi texted me a comment today on the Rabusa exposé:

I was the Commander of the 9th Philippine Contingent to Haiti (9th PCH) under the UN. Suggest ko na yung rental ng UN sa AFP equipment (for Haiti and Liberia), about USD100,000 monthly, to be automatically committed to the AFP modernization procurement of military vehicles para mapakinabangan directly ng mga sundalo. Baka mawala pa sa pabaon o sa vault ng DBM. Hahaha.”

I’d like to think that the Rabusa exposé is like a giant infected carbuncle – all bloated and shiny and ripe and finally erupting. I wish this exercise at truth-telling would drain the running sore so that the system can finally regain its health and our men can be honorable without sacrificing delivering on their mission.

However, that many out there have taken a less optimistic stance on the outcome of these public confessions. These include our troops on UN peacekeeping not only in Haiti and Liberia, but also in Golan Heights, Cote d’ Ivoire, Sudan, India and Pakistan.

The AFP should take this major, major – nay, general – embarrassment and stand to account properly from here on in. We, the public, should make them.

(Wayward and Fanciful is Gail Ilagan’s column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. Ilagan teaches Social Justice, Family Sociology, Theories of Socialization and Psychology at the Ateneo de Davao University where she is also the associate editor of Tambara. You may send comments to gail.ilagan@gmail.com. This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it “Send at the risk of a reply,” she says.)