Manila (Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN) - The houses that two former generals of the Philippines allegedly bought or rented using taxpayer money allotted to the Armed Forces took up much of Friday's hearing at the Senate.
The blue-ribbon committee resumed its inquiry into the controversial plea bargain between state prosecutors and former military comptroller Carlos Garcia with the suicide of former Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief Angelo Reyes casting a cloud over the proceedings.
But nothing was said of Reyes' alleged receipt of money from a purported military slush fund. Instead, the senators zeroed in on the houses, including a mansion at the posh Acropolis subdivision in Quezon City that then AFP chief Diomedio Villanueva allegedly used as a second home.
Whistle-blower George Rabusa, the military budget officer at that time, testified that the mansion was rented at P120,000 (US$2,770) a month and that he paid the full P1.4-million rental for a year.
Also discussed were a total of 10 houses in the United States, all registered under the name of Erlinda Yambao Ligot, the wife of Villanueva's then comptroller, Jacinto Ligot.
Sen. Jinggoy Estrada showed Jacinto Ligot a picture of one of the houses, a two-story care home in California, but he denied any knowledge of the property.
Apart from the houses, the Ligots amassed around P740 million in peso and dollar deposits from 2001 to 2004, according to Sen. Franklin Drilon, who cited bank records submitted to a Makati regional trial court.
The committee chair, Sen. Teofisto Guingona III, was incredulous over why Ligot was never charged with plunder despite the amount of his alleged loot.
"How did you accumulate all these sums?" Drilon asked Ligot.
In response, Ligot invoked his right against self-incrimination.
Drilon distributed copies of a summary of deposits, withdrawals and balances frozen by Ligot, his wife Erlinda and their children Paulo, Riza and Miguel.
The transactions also included brother-in-law Edgardo Yambao, one Gilda Velasquez and Antonio and Ma. Cristina Laurel.
Citing the document, Drilon said Ligot first deposited $351,841.60 at Citibank (account number 8-143020917) in 2001. The total deposit of the Ligots amounted to $554,558.41 by the end of the year.
In 2005, Ligot and company's deposit totaled $8.7 million. But following withdrawals, authorities were able to freeze only $1.3 million.
Erlinda Ligot had been invited to attend the hearing but did not show up. She sent the committee a letter saying the matter was "covered by the principle of sub judice, meaning it was under judicial consideration.
Estrada warned that Ligot's wife could be subpoenaed to shed light on the two houses she had allegedly bought. The senator showed pictures of these pieces of property--one in Anaheim and another one in Buena Park, both in California--at the hearing last week.
"It's recorded in the US that there are 10 properties under the name of Erlinda Yambao or Erlinda Ligot," Estrada said.
On the Acropolis mansion, Rabusa did not say that there was anything irregular about an incumbent chief of staff renting another house besides the White House, his official residence at Camp Aguinaldo.
According to Rabusa, the problem was that the money used to pay for the mansion's rent came from funds "converted" by his office through the Intelligence Service of the AFP.
Villanueva tried to parry questions about the property but eventually admitted that he had been to the mansion when Estrada showed him a picture of it.
"I had entered [the house]," Villanueva said, but clarified that he used the property to "meet with some people very confidentially."
Villanueva also said he used the mansion to accommodate political leaders from Mindanao whenever they were in town and had to stay for a day or two.
Asked if the accommodation was for official business, he said: "Sort of."
He added in Filipino: "There was courtesy involved. When they went somewhere, I entertained them ... Being a chief of staff, I was partly like a politician. They were with me in the fight in Mindanao. You had to be in good graces with them so they could help our troops there."
Rabusa said his then boss, comptroller Garcia, had instructed him to find an "alternate house" near Camp Aguinaldo. He said he had also checked out properties in Valle Verde and White Plains.
"The broker was very happy" when he paid the yearlong rental in a single tranche, he said.
Rabusa said that soon after he got the keys to the mansion located on Calypso Street, he turned these over to then Col. Hilario Atendido and another colonel who allegedly took charge of maintaining the house.
But Atendido denied joining Rabusa and other officials in checking out the house.
'Kind,' 'nice' Senate
From his usual combative stance, Senator Estrada was noticeably restrained in his questioning of Garcia and other retired senior military officers accused by Rabusa of benefiting from the purported military slush fund.
At one point, Villanueva sought Estrada's permission to correct some of his remarks about the AFP's $2.2-million purchase of an unmanned aerial vehicle.
"I'm sorry, your honor, but I have to rebut what you just said," Villanueva said.
In reply, the son of deposed President Joseph Estrada said: "It's okay, General. You are more knowledgeable about those details."
Speaking later with the Inquirer, Estrada said the Senate had "always been kind" to resource persons invited to its inquiries.
"We have been really nice [to the retired military generals] in the Senate," he said in Filipino.
Asked why the senators appeared to have shed their aggressive stance in Friday's hearing, Estrada said: "That's not true. Nagkataon lang yun (That's just by chance). As I said, the Senate has always been kind."
Shortly after Reyes' suicide on Feb. 8, senators said they would "moderate" their questioning of retired generals and other public officials suspected of abetting the corrupt practices in the AFP.
In his opening remarks, Estrada dismissed comments that he had used Rabusa to get back at Reyes, who withdrew support from then President Estrada at the height of the second Edsa people power uprising in 2001.
The senator said that Rabusa's coming out was in support of his privilege speech on anomalous financial transactions in the AFP, and that it was not meant to malign Reyes.
"This imputation is not true and I categorically state ... that it was farthest from my mind," Estrada said, adding:
"I now would like to put to rest and correct the misimpression created against me that I presented Rabusa to the hearing as a personal vendetta against the late General Reyes."
Estrada also said it was "unfortunate" that Reyes was the AFP chief of staff at the time when the "conversion" of military funds was rampant, as claimed by Rabusa.
Committee chair Guingona said the Senate would pursue the inquiry into the alleged corruption in the military despite the tragic suicide of Reyes, who, according to Rabusa, benefited from the military slush fund.
"We have to continue our search for truth to fulfill our mission, duties and responsibilities to the people," Guingona said.
Reposted From ANN (Asian News Network)