Corruption in the Philippine military

Posted: January 7, 2011 in Corruption, GMA, Maguindanao massacre, Philippine politics, Political economy

The on-going legal and extra-legal contortions regarding the ultimate fate of the plundering general Carlos Garcia (ret.) that might allow him (and his family members) off the hook induced me to share this paper.

Major Gen. Carlos Garcia (ret.)

The military establishment is one of a society’s institutions that is not immune to, or may even be particularly prone to corruption.  As an agency of the state, it is tasked to provide a particular public good (external defense) and is provided with public funds to provide the same.

In the Philippines, however, the Philippine military has not functioned properly and has been unable to provide for the country’s national defense.  For much of its history since independence in July 1946, the Philippines was essentially an American protectorate and housed, among many others, two of the most important military bases outside of the continental United States—which served as the headquarters of the US 7th Fleet and the 13th Air Force.

Essentially, the Philippine military was reduced to police functions particularly the prosecution of counter-insurgency efforts against communist and secessionist guerillas.  Even when a separate national police force was created (the dictator Ferdinand Marcos consolidated the Philippine Constabulary and the different local police forces), save for a brief period, the Philippine military was primarily tasked with counter-insurgency as it was clear that the police was not up to the task.  It also had to create irregular or militia forces to help fight the insurgents while also involving the police in the overall effort.  For this reason, the bulk of the Philippine military are the ground forces since it had to content itself with old hand-me-downs from the Americans with respect to its naval vessels and aircraft.

After the military bases agreement with the United States expired in 1991, the Philippines entered into a Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the US (given the survival of the RP-US Military Defense Treaty) following what was perceived by all concerned parties to be aggressive and unanswered Chinese moves on the Spratly islands.  In effect, with the VFA, the Philippines returned to a protectorate status as the Asian financial crisis of the late 1990s derailed military modernization plans.

Mapping corruption in the Philippine military

It is within the overall context established in the introductory section that we should situate corruption within the Philippine military.  Corruption always thrives when and where detection and punishment mechanisms are either weak or non-existent.  Thus, corruption is relatively risk-free and truly rewarding or gainful.

Corruption Mapping is similar to Integrity System Mapping except that it examines the networks and institutions that seek to capture and use institutional power for private benefit rather than those seeking to combat such behavior. However, we should also understand corruption in a wider sense to mean the debasement of public institutions and functions even if not for private gain.  Corruption mapping seeks to understand the interaction between corrupt individuals, networks and institutions to see how corruption in one institution assists successful corruption in others by example, by helping to ensure that corrupt deals are effective and by helping to provide impunity. The emphasis is not on particular individuals but on the modus operandi of corruption in particular sectors and the networking of corrupt officials and those who would corrupt them.

Accordingly, corruption mapping looks to ‘MOs’, techniques, systems and networks rather than particular individuals.

Corruption within the Philippine military is possible both in times of war and peace.  During times of peace, military corruption occurs in several key areas.  These include:

  1. Procurement of non-military equipment and supplies
  2. Procurement of military equipment, hardware and defense supplies;
  3. Bloating of servicemen and veterans’ rolls; and
  4. Operation of criminal rackets including gun-running, smuggling, protection of crime- and warlords, etc.

As in all other public bureaucracies, the Philippine military is plagued with corrupt contracts in the supply of civilian or non-military goods.  I was witness to a particular instance when I was newly appointed an officer of the national defense college in the late ‘90s.  We had a spanking-new building but when the rains started, the roofs

National Defense College of the Philippines

started leaking because cheap or sub-standard materials were used.  We were lucky our expensive computer and networking equipment (which I later found out were also over-priced) were not ruined since the 3rd floor was flooded.  After the rains, the building walls showed cracks and other defects.   After I presented a full report to my boss, I started receiving death threats.  My boss retreated from investigating the mess when the head of the senate defense committee, who belonged to the same armed service as the outgoing college president, reportedly threatened to reduce the college’s budget to a single peso.

In the procurement of war material and equipment, corruption can either take the form of over-pricing and/or siphoning of allocated funds.  Military quartermasters will report inflated prices for military supplies to be purchased and thus the military budget for a particular year will be larger than what it should be—to the detriment of the country’s taxpayers.  Then, they turn around and siphon monies from the allocated amounts this time to the detriment of the fighting men and women at the basic levels who have to contend with defective ammo, firearms, combat boots, uniforms, tents, and other military equipment.  Or the front troops may not have enough gas to run their vehicles and therefore their operations suffer.

Corruption also takes the form of bloated rolls for servicemen and veterans.  The essential objective is for corrupt individuals and networks to continuously collect the pay of ‘ghost’ soldiers and veterans.  Bloating of servicemen’s rolls is comparatively easier with militia than with the regular services because of the irregular character of the forces involved.  It is more difficult to verify the accuracy of militia rolls compared to the list of regular servicemen.  With respect to veterans, aside from bloated rolls, another form of corruption is to conceal the death of veterans so they can continue to draw their financial benefits.  Of course, the relatives of the already-dead veterans partake of the ill-gotten gains but they have to share with the corrupt employees in the Philippine Veteran Affairs Office (PVAO).

A more insidious form of corruption is the military’s involvement in criminal activities such as smuggling, gun-running, and protection rackets. These forms of corruption are amply illustrated by the unsolved murder (declared a suicide by the Philippine Navy) of Ensign Philip Pestaño.

Ensign Philip Pestaño

On September 27, 1995, he was found dead in his cabin in the Navy logistics ship BRP (Barko ng Republika ng Pilipinas) Bacolod City. Ensign Philip Andrew Azarcon Pestaño was the ship’s deck officer and cargo master.

The Pestaño case

Here is Fr. James Reuter’s account of the circumstances surrounding Pestaño’s death:

“He discovered that the cargo being loaded onto his vessel included logs that were cut down illegally, were carried to the ship illegally, and were destined to be sold, illegally. Then there were 50 sacks of flour, which were not flour, but shabu—worth billions. Literally, billions. And there were military weapons which were destined for sale to the Abu Sayyaf. He felt that he could not approve this cargo.

Father James reuter

“Superior officers came to him and said: ‘Please! Be reasonable! This is big business. It involves many important people. Approve this cargo.’ But Phillip could not, in conscience, sign approval.

“Then his parents received two phone calls, saying: ‘Get your son off that ship! He is going to be killed!’ When Phillip was given leave at home, his family begged him not to go back. Their efforts at persuasion continued until his last night at home, when Phillip was already in bed.

“His father came to him and said: ‘Please, son, resign your commission. Give up your military career. Don’t go back. We want you alive. If you go back to that ship, it will be the end of you!’ But Phillip said to his father: ‘Kawawa ang bayan!’ And he went back to the ship.

“The scheduled trip was very brief—from Cavite to Roxas Boulevard—it usually took only 45 minutes. But on September 27, 1995, it took one-hour-and-a-half. When the ship arrived at Roxas Boulevard, Ensign Pestaño was dead.”

The Navy immediately ruled his death a suicide, based on a suicide note found in his stateroom. Handwriting experts eventually concluded the note was a forgery.

In 1997, two years after the incident, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, then a senator, sponsored a resolution that started a Senate investigation on Pestaño’s mysterious death.

The Senate’s findings are detailed in Senate Report 800.

Here are excerpts from that report:

“Pestaño did not kill himself aboard the BRP Bacolod City. . . . He was bludgeoned unconscious and then shot to death somewhere else in the vessel. His body was moved and laid on the bed where it was found. . . .

“The clear absence of blood spatters, bone fragments or other human tissues is physical evidence more eloquent than a hundred witnesses. It is impossible for a person who has just sustained a fatal head injury to walk from some other place in his room, lie on his bed and drop dead. . . .

“He was killed by an assailant, necessarily aboard the BRP Bacolod City. . . . The attempt to make it appear Pestaño killed himself, inside his stateroom, was so deliberate and elaborate that one person could not have accomplished it by himself.”

The Senate asked Ombudsman Aniano Desierto, a former Judge Advocate General, to reinvestigate the Pestaño case.

He replied: “the conduct of further investigation in order to find out the identity of the perpetrator and his accomplices, if any, will only be a waste of time considering that the physical evidence has already been tampered with, not to mention the lapse of time.”

Fortunately, Desierto’s successor, Simeon Marcelo, reopened the case. A complaint for murder and grave misconduct was filed against ship captain LCDR (lieutenant commander) Ordoñez et al.

Unfortunately, there has been very little movement in the case since. The parents of Pestaño said, “Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez [Marcelo’s successor] has not agreed to see us.”

The Pestaño case is the best example of a culture of corruption among the Armed Forces of the Philippines brass.

Here is the intro of a masters’ thesis written by Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV, then a lieutenant in the Navy:

Antonio Trillanes IV

“[I]n February 2001, the Philippine Navy [and the AFP] was rocked by a leadership crisis when the Philippine Marines [PMAR] demanded the relief of the flag-officer-in-command, Rear Admiral Wong. The crisis was triggered by the berating of the Marines by RAdm Wong for alleged irregularities in the procurement of P3.8 million worth of Kevlar helmets. In the events that followed, the Marines prevailed and RAdm Wong was stripped of his command and was ‘promoted’ to an ambassadorial post. The crisis, while it was eventually resolved peacefully, exposed a previously unseen face of the Navy, and that is the face of CORRUPTION.”

In 2003 Trillanes and the Magdalo Group launched what is now known as the Oakwood mutiny. It was against unabated corruption in the military.

In 2005 the LTA building, owned by the Arroyos and headquarters of lawyers known as “The Firm,” was bombed by renegade soldiers who called themselves Enlightened Warriors. They said:

“We are inspired by the memory of our fallen fellow soldiers who valiantly stood against corruption and for the interest of the country: Navy Ensign Philip Pestaño, 2nd Lt. Jessica Chavez, Air Force Capt. Panfilo Villaruel Jr. We are illuminated by their spirit and vow to pursue their ideals and make every drop of their blood worth their ultimate sacrifice.”

Gloria Arroyo filed the resolution asking the Senate to investigate the Pestaño case; she can now ensure its resolution—she handpicked Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez, AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Hermogenes Esperon is her personal bodyguard, and she has always claimed, “A President is always as strong as she wants to be.”

So, if she fails to resolve the case, despite all the powers at her command, Pestano’s last words to his parents, “Kawawa ang bayan,” will be a fitting epitaph to Gloria Arroyo’s reign.

In August 2010, the Office of the Ombudsman dismissed the murder charges filed by the family of Ensign Phillip Pestaño against Philippine Navy officials.  It didn’t even take into consideration the findings of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights released six days before it finalized its own that said, “It now appears undisputed that the death of the author’s son was a violent one, resulting from homicide.”  Homicide is still murder, even if at a lesser degree. It’s not suicide as Navy officials claim.

The Maguindanao massacre

The massacre of the female relatives and legal counsel of a rival of the powerful Ampatuan family of Maguindanao province, together with a great number of journalists in November 2009—considered the worst case of political violence in recent years—is another illustration of corruption within the Philippine armed services (military and police) as well as the rest of the state bureaucracy and officialdom (up to the presidential palace).

After initially hesitating to go after the apparent perpetrators, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo declared a state of emergency in the province and launched joint police-military operations to disarm the followers and supporters of the Ampatuan clan.  In the clan’s mansions and surrounding grounds, security forces discovered troves of cash, arms caches, and armored cars (with Philippine National Police signage).  The arms and ammo boxes bore the mark of the Philippine Army and PNP armories.

A member of the Ampatuan clan arrested by police

The Ampatuan case illustrates the cozy and corrupt alliance between central state officials and local warlord families.  Ostensibly in support of counter-insurgency efforts but actually for purposes of delivering vote banks in favor of incumbent Palace occupants, local warlords are equipped with arms and equipment from the state’s armories and allowed to operate criminal activities (including gambling, drug trading, etc.) provided a share of the illicit gains is kicked upstairs.

Corruption during combat operations

During the conduct of actual combat operations, corruption can take the form of the intentional loss of equipment and supplies with the eventual intent of selling the same for private profit.  This is possible since it is easy to claim such a loss during the heat of combat.  It is also difficult to audit how much ammunition was expended during a military operation.  So corrupt/criminal commanders can report they used so much ammo and lost so much firearms and equipment but the actual ammo expenditure is actually so much less and no firearms and equipment were actually lost.  The differential is spirited away and sold even to warlords and the guerillas themselves for private gain.

Even as early as the 1950s when the military was fighting Huk guerillas, the inflation of insurgent strength was usually resorted to obtain a higher military budget.  In recent years, the tactic of ‘acoustic warfare’ was adopted where fake military encounters (especially in Mindanao where the operations were conventional in nature) were mounted also for the purpose of seeking larger military budgets.  Acoustic wars with mythical gains and casualties inflicted on the enemy (most often, collaterally-damaged civilians are cynically identified as insurgents) proved to be the laurels that will promote many officers to star rank.  Acoustic war is also a cover for an overstatement of ammo used and equipment lost or damaged.

Corruption of the military by the political leadership of the country

What had been discussed earlier were the corrupt practices undertaken within the Philippine military.  The Ampatuan massacre indicates how the military could be corrupted by civilians, particularly by the country’s political leadership.

However, there is a case that illustrates better how the military establishment (or at least its top command) is corrupted by the country’s political leaders and in turn corrupt the country’s electoral processes and democracy in general.  The scandalous revelation of the so-called ‘Garci tapes’—which suggest a prima facie case of


systematic electoral fraud carried through the active collaboration of the electoral bodies and key military commands to benefit the incumbent chief executive.  And the chief executive shielded the military commanders involved from investigation and criminal prosecution, and the latter were even promoted since then.  The said electoral scandal catalyzed, among others, discontent and disgruntlement within the ranks and helped lead to the 2006 and the 2007 coup attempts.

In effect, a corrupted military is a de-militarized institution since non-military ‘functions’ detract from its military function.  The military should only have and pursue a military function.  One of the key ways to rebuild the military is to remove its ‘non-military burden’ from its shoulders, a burden imposed upon it by feckless civilian politicians.  In effect, a military establishment is largely corrupted not primarily by impulses from within but essentially by influence from without.

The ideal in democracies is civilian control over the military.  However, in jurisdiction like the Philippines where institutions are relatively weak across the board, how corrupt politicians can induce non-corrupt behavior within the military is a great challenge.  Apparently, a countervailing power from the citizenry has the responsibility.  Voters can throw out corrupt or incompetent and non-performing politicians through the ballot box.  How can ordinary and unarmed civilians check corruption within the military?


The blog entry is a reproduction of a paper I presented  during an anti-corruption workshop organized by the Center for Asian Integrity (CAI) in the Manila Peninsula Hotel early last month.


Maguindanao massacre montage

Magdalo mutineers in Oakwood

Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez

The dead ensign

Aging veterans

  1. gracemary says:

    I am glad the Philippine Military is now concentrating on their main function which is external defense.

  2. x'tian says:

    how are graft and corruption different? =). tnx for the nice piece,

    • bongmendoza says:


      The two terms are actually the same. However, the way we Filipinos use the two terms indicate a belief that they are different from each other. This demonstrated in the law entitled Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act. We always associate graft and/or corruption with politicians and public officials and forget that corruption also happens in the private sector. One thus wonder why we don’t use only one term. Perhaps the only reason is the usefulness of corruption–that one can draw adjectives and verbs from as in ‘corrupt acts’ and ‘he corrupted his public office’. On the other hand, graft, as a corrupt act, will always be a noun.

  3. jun sapallo says:

    MANILA, Philippines – When the Ombudsman reversed last week her predecessor’s ruling dismissing the case against 10 Navy officers and charging them with murder in the supposed suicide of Philip Pestano 15 years ago, many hoped such reversal would finally unravel the truth.

    After all, Pestano’s family had maintained all these years the young Navy officer was shot dead–he didn’t shoot himself in the temple as an official report had claimed–because he was going to blow the whistle on contraband being loaded onto navy boats.

    On Wednesday, however, the 10 Navy officers implicated in the case of Pestano, a graduate of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) Class of 1993, turned the tables on the latter’s three classmates and the head of a medical corps for alleged cover-up and tampering of evidence in the alleged suicide of the young officer.

    Pestano’s lifeless body was found on September 27, 1995 inside his cabin aboard the BRP Bacolod City, with a bullet hole in the head.

    In a three-page complaint dated January 23, 2011 lodged before the office of Armed Forces Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Jessie Dellosa, the officers accused Lt. Col. Felix Tayo of the Medical Corps and Cdrs. Joselito De Guzman and Romulo Vigilancia, both classmates of Pestano, of Conduct Unbecoming an Officer and a Gentleman, Conduct Prejudicial to Good Order and Military Discipline, and Conduct Bringing Discredit Upon the Military Service.

    Earlier, in a 21-page decision dated January 10, 2010, Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales believed there was “presence of conspiracy” to commit murder against Pestano after reviewing the evidence that led her to overturn the decision of her predecessor, Merceditas Gutierrez, dismissing the murder case filed by Pestano’s parents.

    Morales then ordered the filing of murder charges against Capt. Ricardo Ordonez, Lt. Cdr. Ruben Roque, Petty Officer 1st Class Carlito Amoroso and Petty Officer 2nd Class Mil Leonor Igcasan, all retired; and Commander Reynaldo Lopez and Lt. Cdr. Luidegar Casis, both of PMA Class of 1992; Lt. Cdrs. Alfrederick Alba Joselito Colico, of PMA Class of 1994; Hospital Man 2 Welmenio Aquino; and Machinery Repairman 2 Sandy Miranda, all still in active service.

    Their case landed at the Sandiganbayan 3rd Division.

    On January 24 2012, the officers filed an eight-page motion to quash by contesting some evidence presented in the murder case, particularly the alleged two gunshot wounds that Pestano sustained in the head.

    “There is only one gunshot wound self-inflicted by the deceased. The bullet entered the right temple and exited in the left side of the head. The exit wound is not considered another gunshot wound. This statement in the Information is misleading and deliberately deceiving. Thus, on this score alone, the Information should be quashed and the case should be dismissed,” they averred.

    Ordonez first broke his silence and insisted the Pestano case was suicide and linked his death to a problem about his relationship with women then, especially when one of his girlfriends, Djoanna Grace Yasay, filed an administrative complaint against him before the Philippine Fleet for breach of promise to marry which is punishable under the Articles of War.

    He was then the commander of the BRP Bacolod City.

    The six active officers were held in custody so they can voice out their side in accordance with military rules and regulations.

    As to the complaint they filed before the Office of the Chief of Staff, the officers claimed that Tayo, De Guzman and Vigilancia “willfully and deliberately acted and still continuously act in conspiracy with one another to cover up the real cause of the death of Pestano…” at their expense.

    They claimed that the complaint filed against Pestano could have pestered him as evidently showed by his suicidal tendencies before he committed suicide such as cutting his pulse on the wrist, hallucinating in broad daylight and even sleep-walking.

    “The unbearable problem of Pestano at the time he committed suicide is the administrative complaint filed against him by his first girlfriend because his rich parents, particularly his father, Felipe, also known as Don Pepe, do not approve of her religious beliefs. Pestano, being a dutiful son, obeyed his parents, broke with Ms. Yasay and entered into a relationship with another woman named Joann Doxi-Lim, whom his parents favor,” the officers claimed.

    They claimed Don Pepe allegedly “used influence, money, connections and vast resources” to ventilate the case of his son.

    “He was heard saying that he will not stop until the Navy officers pay with their own lives,” they said.

    “Don Pepe is a contractor/supplier of the Philippine Navy. He is a golfing buddy of ranking military and government officials. The Directors of his company (Philipp Sanctuary) are all Navy officers, namely: Magsino, Viola, Mendoza, Carlos, Togonon, Marcelo, Zuria, Ventura, Mulane and Galutera.”

    Before the alleged suicide, on Sept. 10, the officers claimed Pestano deliberately slashed his wrist “in an attempt to commit suicide.”

    “Two of his (Pestano’s) classmates, Ensigns Joselito De Guzman and Robert Clement Bosch, who were aware of his depressive mood took him from the BRP Bacolod City and brought him to Camp Navarro General Hospital in Southcom (Southern Command). Pestano’s wound was treated and sutured by Lt. Col. Felix Tayo assisted by nurse Mercy Cando. Thereafter he was referred to Lt. Col. Jose Del Rosario, a neuro psychiatrist and psychologist for examination.”

    They said De Guzman and Bosch did not inform Ordonez about Pestano’s medical treatment and neither did Del Rosario; Del Rosario also “did not recommend Pestano’s confinement to the hospital for his suicidal tendencies…”

    Bosch had availed an early retirement and was honorably discharged sometime after the Pestano’s death. He is reportedly living now in the United States.

    As to the possible culpability of Vigilancia, the officers alleged that after the suicide he “boarded the ship [and] took away Pestano’s two pillows which had blood and bone fragments.”

    “These pillows likewise contained illegal drugs belonging to Pestano for his personal use. Pestano confided to Ensign Alvin Parrone that he had taken drugs before going to bed on the night when he was observed to be sleep-walking.”

    Parrone died a year or so after Pestano’s death.

    Ensign Edwin Vigilar, another classmate of Pestano, “was the first person to board the ship and took Pestano’s body to the morgue,” and, “was the one who washed Pestano’s body and scrubbed his hands to remove the gunpowder residue.”

    Vigilar, also availed of early retirement and was honorably discharged from the service, and now reportedly lives in Canada. He is the son of former public works and highways secretary Gregorio Vigilar.

  4. m0rph3u5 says:

    well just having the afp is already a big corruption. as you mentioned,they were reduced to merely performing police functions. we do not have external threats so we really dont need the army. an institution of more than 100,000 active and another 100,000 reserves with budget of more than 700 million dollars doing police works. isnt that stupid enough? they cant even win against a mere 5 to 6 thousand npa’s or 10 to 20 thousand milfs or not even 50 abu sayafs.WHY DONT WEJUST DUMP THE AFP JUST LIKE WHAT THE JAPANESE DID AND SAVE A LOT OF MONEY

  5. Can I just say what a relief to find someone who essentially knows what they’re talking about on the internet. You almost always know how to bring an issue to light and make it appealing. More people need to read this and understand this side of the story. I cant believe youre not more popular because you definitely have the gift.

  6. I guess your RSS feed doesn’t functional cause it just gives me a web page of strange characters, would the problem be on my end?

  7. Eve Aspell says:

    Thanks for this post. I most probably agree with what you are saying. I have been talking about this subject a lot lately with my father so most probably this will get him to see my point of view. Fingers crossed!

  8. Norman Hilk says:

    Good thing you have here! I actually love how it is easy on my eyes as well as the details are well composed. I am wondering how I could be notified whenever a new post has been made. I have subscribed to your rss feed which really should do the trick! Have a good day!

    • bongmendoza says:

      Hi Norman, thanks for your praise. I guess subscribing to my RSS feed will indeed keep you informed whenever a new entry has been posted. Have a good day too! BTW, where are you from?

  9. Nonoy Oplas says:

    Good and clear points Bong, congrats! I will quote this paper in my future blog articles on the subject. Meanwhile, I have written a preliminary discussion on the non-existent external security threat and the Navy,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s