Theres The Rub
By Conrado de Quiros
Philippine Daily Inquirer
ANGELO REYES had two interesting questions when the senators agreed to allow him to cross-examine George Rabusa. Rabusa had just accused him of amassing a fortune while serving as AFP chief of staff and later defense secretary.
His questions were: One, did he interfere in “the preparation and distribution of the provisions for command-directed activities”? Two, was he greedy?
These questions do not help him. They do not extricate him from his bind, they entangle him all the more in it. They do not paint him in lighter hues, they paint him in blacker ones. He has merely enlarged the scope of the guilt to include his favorite institution.
Rabusa had a ready answer for the first, which was pretty damning. No, sir, [you did not direct the allocation of the funds] because you delegated the function to me and [retired Lt.] Gen. [Jacinto] Ligot [the former comptroller]. The instruction that I heard directly from you was, ‘Wag nyo lang akong papirmahin ng alanganin (Just don’t make me sign anything that would compromise me).’”
That doesn’t just damn Reyes, though it is enough to put him in jail if today’s prosecutors, unlike their precursors, can prove their mettle. That damns the entire AFP. It shows the extent to which corruption has become so ingrained, so institutionalized, so automatic in that institution the generals do not need to take any initiative, or make overtures, to get their “due.” It gets to them as a matter of course.
Reyes of course did issue specific instructions about how to get his “due,” if Rabusa is to be believed, but he got to be found out only because Carlos Garcia, the comptroller Rabusa served under, got found out before him, turning a spark into a conflagration. As Rabusa himself testified, the system of diverting huge sums into the pockets of the generals, particularly their chief of staff, was already there when they took over. They merely inherited it. He himself was one of its beneficiaries.
They inherited it but jacked it up a few more notches. Which makes Antonio Trillanes’s mutiny—he finally turned the tables on Reyes, having turned from inmate to senator—at least perfectly understandable if not legally defensible. What can you do when mired in a system where robbery is so endemic it is no longer seen as robbery at all? Indeed, what can you do when caught in a system where honesty becomes a threat to the very institution, the honest man, or soldier, in danger of being ostracized by his fellows, or worse suffering an accident while cleaning his gun? Trillanes might have been wrong in invading Oakwood, but he wasn’t wrong in resisting wormwood in the institution he served.
Reyes’s other question is the more damning. He did not ask, “Did I take money?,” he asked “Was I greedy?” Those are two different things, as Jinggoy noted in his interpellation. You get inured to corruption, you get to believe in “acceptable” levels of corruption, beyond which lurks greed. I remember in this respect hearing the story some years ago of how someone paid off a Customs official to get his cargo released, and got back some change. The official said he had paid more than the going rate. By the standards of Customs and related agencies, that official would be called honest. Or a practitioner of honor from thieves.
By the standards of the AFP and the Arroyo regime generally, the sums involved in the Garcia case, while fabulous to the ordinary citizen and certainly so to the foot soldier, who has been quite literally turned into that because the money for his boots has gone into it, are by no means extraordinary. Arroyo’s favored generals and civilian officials have gotten more. Much, much more.
What this suggests is that corruption in this country—P-Noy will have his hands full curbing it, if not obliterating it—has become a culture unto itself. You remember again Romulo Neri’s famous line about “moderating the greed,” a line that suggests that “moderated greed” is not greed at all. No wonder Reyes thought to ask his accuser that very question, “Was I greedy?” That is the framework he is using.
Jose Mabanta, the AFP spokesperson, says Rabusa’s exposé is just “raw information, which needs to be verified.” True, but raw information works both ways. It can either be dismissed, as is likely to happen if the investigation is left to the AFP—that is a case of the accused verifying his innocence or guilt—or it can be pursued to its logical end, which is likely to implicate other generals and the ruler they propped up for nine years. It’s about time we did, under the auspices of a new government, one that vows to extirpate corruption.
I’m glad in this respect that Rabusa says he has barely started, his expose will reach more rarified heights to include Arroyo herself. As well it should: Those levels of plunder would not have been possible without the knowledge and consent, or the aiding and abetting, of the usurper herself. That was how Arroyo lasted that long. That was how she managed to get the generals, the bishops, the captains of industry, the lieutenants of civil society, if not the institutions themselves they led to prop up a rule blessed by Garci. Arroyo by no means invented corruption in the military, it was there long before she came in. But she reinvented it by every means possible, making sure it would be there long after she went out. The new government can always make sure it does not, by shining like an interrogator’s lamp the light of truth upon it.
Truly heaven works in mysterious ways. Some people, like Paul, get to be struck by light on their way to Damascus, others like Rabusa get to be struck by a stroke on their way to perdition. Both have the effect of turning sinners into saints.
Long live Rabusa—or at least long enough to tell the tale.