A Step Sidewards

by Juan L. Mercado

“The difference between a hero and a coward is a step sidewards,” we’re told. State Auditor Heidi Mendoza refused to shuffle sidewards. She led instead a Commission of Audit team that sifted through Armed Forces comptroller records, only to be told: “Back off.” She didn’t.

“Calculations never made a hero,” Blessed John Henry Newman wrote. Mendoza didn’t count the cost. She resigned from COA where her bona-fides earlier caught former Ombudsman Simeon Marcelo’s eye. He had Mendoza audit Comptroller Gen. Carlos Garcia’ s books.

The Comptroller’s office plundered AFP funds, Mendoza said in her final report. That included a P200 million reimbursement check from United Nations for Filipino peacekeepers.

A Nov. 21, 2002 memo shows Garcia opened a United Coconut Planters Bank account for an “AFP Inter-Agency Transfer Fund”. He deposited the UN check in three chunks, Vera Files Yvonne Chua and Ellen Torrdesillas reported:

“AFP Inter-agency Transfer Fund “ got P50 million. Then, P100 million was plunked into Premium Savings Deposit 1743. Finally, P50 million was shoved, “without deposit slip into a passbook carrying a different serial number (347266)”.

“All three transactions happened in a single day”. Issued by UCBP Alfaro branch, this passbook “bore tampered entries”. Mendoza traced the account to UCPB branch on Tordesillas Street. Alfaro certified“. AFP Inter-Agency Transfer Fund did not exist in its system.” By then, P200 million had vanished.

Asian Development Bank signed up the 48-year old mother of three for it’s good governance project. From there, “Mendoza could only watch from the sidelines as Garcia entered a plea bargain,” Inquirer noted. But “now, Mendoza may find the vindication that she deserves as a modern day hero.”

Mendoza’s vindicator came in a wheelchair. A stroke patient, retired budget officer Lt. Col. George Rabusa told the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee of his participation in institutionalized pillage of AFP funds.

He personally delivered a P50 million buen viaje gift for retiring AFP chief of staff Angelo Reyes. An annual discretionary pot of about P480 million is creamed from command directed activities”. AFP top brass help themselves to most of it. The rest trickles down the line.

Reyes doesn’t suffer from Alzheimers. “I don’t remember,” he says. Was it T.S. Eliot who wrote: “Footfalls echo in the memory / Down the passage we did not take/ Towards the door we never opened.”

Among doors still to be opened are: Why did then COA Chairman Guillermo Carague deny he authorized the audit. He signed, in October 2004, an order detailing Mendoza’s team to Ombudsman Marcelo.

Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez couldn’t care less. Her main cncerns is protecting interests of the former President and family. Central Bank watchdogs didn’t bark over UCPB’s role. Nor in Jose Velarde” infamous account either.

Rules of court allow plea bargains only before trial starts. Despite strong fraud evidence and lack of consent by the aggrieved party, Sandiganbayan inexplicably ok’d Garcia’s plea Will this “invalid plea bargain” be reversed?, former Chief Justisce Artemio Panganiban wonders.

Why were prosecutors willing ”to take a dive? “My dear,” Senator Frank Drilon crisply told Prosecutor Wendell Sullit: “This is not a collective bargaining agreement. This is about plunder.”

We’ve never met Ms. Mendoza. But she reminds one of Clarrisa Ocampo. Remember the banker who held the country spellbound as she coolly testified at the impeachment trial: President Joseph Estrada signed papers for P500 million loan as “Jose Velarde”. “I refused to certify it,” she responded to a question from then Rep. Simeon Marcelo.

“You want a yardstick to gauge if government means business about curbing sleaze?,” Viewpoint asked (PDI/May 23, 2008) “Check if it protects—or harasses –”whistle blowers”: men and women who risk jobs, ostracism, and sometimes their lives, to expose crime.

“Governments must create an environment that encourages, instead of penalizing, citizens who denounce venality,” declared 135 countries attending the 9th International Anti-Corruption Conference in Durham, South Africa. The Philippines dutifully signed that document.

“Half a decade after Durham, “the kind and extent of support that a legitimate whistle blower should be able to expect (remains) unclear,” says the Asian Institute of Management study: “Whistle Blowing in the Philippines: Awareness, Attitudes and Structures.”

Many countries recognize the societal value of whistle-blowers. They adopt measures to ensure that whistle-blowers have institutional protection against retaliation. But protection of whistle blowers here from retaliation is spotty.

Publishers pummeled Marian School Supervisor Antonio Calipo Go with fake charges after he documented seriously flawed textbooks. Some columnists smeared the . Marian School supervisor

“Every failure to recover proceeds of corruption,” the Durham Statement warns, “feeds its growth.” The new Aquino administration should, therefore, differentiate itself from the Arroyo administration.

Acsa Ramirez revealed Land Bank tax scams. NBI agents shoved Ramirez into a police lineup of crooks while cameras panned on President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s smile. GMA never apologized.

The Philippines needs “an explicit policy that will govern whistle blowing,” the AIM study asserts. That should help dismantle a culture where the powerful “dream of being honest cowards”. Like everybody else?

(Email: juanlmercado@gmail.com )

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