(First of two parts)
DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/21 February) — A female former junior Navy officer who blew the whistle about the alleged corruption in the joint RP-US Balikatan military exercises four years ago has not gone into oblivion, showing up recently in a fighting mode as the controversial fund mess rocking the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) continues to grip the nation’s attention.
Ex-Navy Lt. Senior Grade Mary Nancy Gadian, a Mindanawon, is ready to surface to substantiate the corrupt practices ingrained in the AFP system, now the subject of congressional investigations in aid of legislation climaxed at one point by the suicide of former AFP chief of staff General Angelo Reyes who shot himself in the heart.
In hiding for security reasons, Gadian lauded former AFP budget officer Lt. Col. George Rabusa for spilling the beans on how funds were misused through the practice of giving bienvenida and despedida monies for AFP chiefs of staff, a revelation that was eventually confirmed by former state auditor Heidi Mendoza.
“I’m willing to help in the congressional investigations if that would be a way to institute total reform in the AFP. I’ll do that for the sake of the Filipino people who ought to know where their taxes go,” Gadian told MindaNews.
Gadian granted an exclusive interview in a safehouse in line with the “Pera Natin To!” anti-corruption campaign of the Philippine Public Transparency Reporting Project (PPTRP), the first time she spoke again to the media after a long time of hiding. MindaNews is a PPTRP project partner.
Gadian appeared strong and high-spirited despite battling an illness that she stressed won’t keep her from telling the truth about the corruption in the AFP.
Despite financial difficulties bowing to intimidation or taking bribes for her to recant appeared to be not an option for Gadian, a mother of two who is now estranged from her husband. Her eldest child has stopped schooling due to financial constraints. He should be in college now. Only the youngest is studying. After serving in the military for more than a decade “all” that Gadian owns now is a nipa hut built not on her own lot but beside his brother’s.
For exposing the evils of corruption in the military service, Gadian, on the verge of tears, noted she paid a very stiff price—the apparent destruction of their family life and the future of her children. She rarely sees her children obviously due to the lingering threats to her security. Worse she has no means to adequately provide for their basic needs.
“They’ve become accustomed to eating bagoong, toyo, okra (lady’s finger) as meals,” revealed Gadian, thanking the support she got from her family towards the children. Gadian is the sixth among 12 siblings of poor farmer-parents.
But despite these emotional burdens, Gadian has not wavered in her anti-corruption crusade that even if she could not come to events where she’s the invited speaker, she would find ways to be with them. This was true when she appeared through Skype, an Internet-based application which allows video conferencing, in an anti-corruption forum in Mindanao last year.
Gadian is closely watching the corruption scandal now rocking the AFP, no thanks to former top military brasses. She’s glad the Senate and the House of Representatives are conducting separate probes to get to the bottom of things and from there institute policy reforms needed to correct what’s wrong.
She supported the claim of Rabusa that fund conversion is a “normal practice” in the AFP, recalling there were instances where officials convert the subsistence allowance of soldiers into travel funds. Also in her stint in the Balikatan exercises, she said that gas slips were allegedly filled up as already consumed when they were not, and were purportedly siphoned to the pockets of corrupt military officials.
Gadian said she knows all these from heart because she was involved in the planning and execution of the 2002 and 2007 Balikatan exercises with her position at the Civil Military Operations as deputy chief.
“The investigation on corruption in the AFP should have been conducted a long time ago but nevertheless I’m glad that they’re doing it now,” said Gadian, who in October 2009 had asked the Senate to conduct a probe on the “systematic corruption” in the military. At the time, she had already resigned from service after blowing the lid on the Balikatan exercises fund scam.
“Some of what I described [in this letter] has been exposed before by some officers and men of the Armed Forces, particularly by those who had staged mutiny or rebellion,” Gadian’s letter addressed to Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile said.
In her letter, which the PPTRP obtained, Gadian alleged that in the 2002 and 2007 Balikatan exercises where she was involved, it was usual for AFP activities to be conducted without official funds because fund transfer is delayed. To address the problem, loans are made from “dealers” with connections to military officers, a scheme described by Gadian as “cost of money.”
This practice is endemic as practically every fund release from the AFP general headquarters to the units involves a corresponding “cost of money,” according to Gadian, detailing that at the Western Mindanao Command, the “cost of money” includes 8% for the dealer, 6% for the Bureau of Internal Revenue, 5% as commander’s contingency, and 3% as command contingency, or a total deduction of 22% of the allocated fund.
The 6% for the BIR represents payment to the establishment that produces the receipts used to justify expenditures, she explained. On the other hand, the commander’s contingency is used for things such as the visits of the commanders’ paramours to the beauty parlor and their maintenance and the travel of their wives. The same is true for the command contingency.
Giving a particular example, Gadian said that in one of the releases to the CMO in the 2007 Balikatan exercises, an amount of P300,000 was involved. But after the “cost of money” was deducted, the Unified Command Staff for Civil Military Operations or U7 got only P246,857.04.
In the 2007 Balikatan, Gadian alleged that senior military officials at the Westmincom, then headed by retired Lt. General Eugenio Cedo, pocketed more than P40 million as only P2.3 million was actually released to the CMO in two tranches.
Cedo has denied the charges while Gadian was ordered arrested by the Philippine Navy for insubordination in what she claimed as harassment for blowing the corruption whistle. In turn also, she was accused of malversation of funds and living an extravagant lifestyle.
“I’ve complained about the fund anomalies and they want to prosecute me. That is so unfair,” said Gadian,
Gadian’s October 2009 letter reached the offices of many senators, aside from Enrile, but it was only Senator Antonio Trillanes IV’s office who replied to that communiqué. Trillanes was then in detention.
Rolando T. Averilla, Trillanes’ chief of staff, told Gadian on November 4, 2009 that “now pending before the committees on Accountability of Public Officers and Investigations and the Oversight Committee on the Visiting Forces Agreement is SRN 1069 or “Resolution directing the proper Senate Committee to vonduct an inquiry, in aid of legislation, on the alleged misuse of 2007 Balikatan funds,” filed by Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago on May 19, 2009.
“Rest assured our office is aware of such similar corrupt practices existing in our government offices and agencies,” Averilla wrote.
Gadian said she never heard from the senators after that but pleased they’re now digging into the AFP fund mess.
Although she’s “protected” by a Writ of Amparo, the decorated former Navy officer is not taking chances, as much as possible eluding public places. A Writ of Amparo is a remedy available to any person whose right to life, liberty and security has been violated or is threatened with violation by an unlawful act or omission of a public official or employee, or of a private individual or entity.
Among the significant awards and medals that Gadian received were the AFP Cadette of the Year 1989, Philippine Navy Midshipwoman of the Year 1989, Flag Officer in Command Certificate of Merit for graduating number 1 in the Naval Officers Qualification Course “B,” Certificate of Merit for graduating number 1 in Political Warfare Course, Certificate of Merit for graduating number 2 in the Naval Intelligence Collection Course and Gawad sa Kaunlaran Award.
In 2009, she was recognized as a “Woman of Courage” by Gabriela, a militant women’s organization in the country.
The corruption scandal rocking the AFP anew should lead to reforms, and Gadian also suggested an intensive ethics course be taught in the military school in a bid to minimize—if not stop—corruption within the organization.
“The system has to be changed. The culture of corruption in the military service has become a tradition,” she said.
The culture of corruption, according to Gadian, may have persisted in the military because of the “rule” which is to “Obey First Before You Complain.”
But more than that, she added, “rule number one” really explains why corruption is rampant among the top officers, which is: “The commander is always right.”
“If the commander is wrong, they would always refer to rule number one,” Gadian recalled.
As it is, the lady will not be cowed if ever she’s invited to the congressional hearings—she has loads of documents to back her claims—and that she will never cease advocating against corruption, after all the fight she started has not been given justice.
“The only time that I will stop with my crusade is if I’m already six feet below the ground,” concluded Gadian, feeling vindicated. (Bong Sarmiento/MindaNews)