AFP: Number of ‘ghost army’ is top secret
By Gil Cabacungan Jr.
Philippine Daily Inquirer
The number of ‘ghost’ soldiers will remain secret for now.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines has refused to reveal to the Commission on Audit (COA) the number of officers and soldiers under its wing, citing national security reasons, Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares said on Tuesday.
Colmenares said he was shocked to learn from COA officials that even state auditors were barred from prying into the AFP personnel strength.
“This is in violation of COA’s constitutional mandate to audit Department of Defense funds. While other countries submit their roster to their auditing bodies, the Philippine COA cannot even check if the supposed number of troops hired by the AFP actually exists,” Colmenares said in a statement.
The AFP has been padding its actual troop strength by 20 percent through the years, according to George Rabusa, a retired lieutenant colonel.
At Senate hearings on corruption in the military early this year, he said the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) would release a fund for, say, 120,000 troops when the AFP actually had only 100,000. The salary for the 20,000 allegedly became the source of additional funds for military officials.
Source of slush fund
Rabusa, who served as military budget officer from 2000 to 2002, said the budget for the salaries of the ghost soldiers was the major source of the military’s slush fund, from which sendoff gifts amounting to hundreds of millions of pesos for retiring top military officials are taken.
Rabusa said it was a tradition in the military to give a new AFP chief of staff start-up funds and to give him sendoff gifts upon retirement.
Accused of receiving some P150 million from the slush fund, former AFP Chief of Staff Angelo Reyes committed suicide on Feb. 8.
As a result of Rabusa’s revelations, the DBM withheld early this year P8.6 billion from the AFP budget and P11 billion from the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) budget for uniformed units, including P9.5 billion from the Philippine National Police.
The amounts represented 20 percent of the salaries for unfilled positions in the AFP and DILG for 2011, according to the DBM.
Colmenares wanted to know the actual number of AFP officers and soldiers to confirm whether the salaries and allowances allocated by Congress to the military were not bloated.
In February, Colmenares said the AFP received P179 billion in surplus funds from 2002 to 2010 as the actual salary disbursements were much lower than what the AFP had requested in the annual budget.
Colmenares reckoned that the AFP refused to open its books to the COA due to its fear that the “ghost soldiers” who have padded the military payroll through the years would be finally exposed.
“This only allows for ghost soldiers and the conversion previously exposed by Col. George Rabusa,” said Colmenares.
Aside from the ghost soldiers, Colmenares said the AFP should reveal how much it was giving to rebel returnees.
“The Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) integrees were supposedly given P18,000 a month each in 2002-2003 and Cordillera People’s Liberation Army integrees were allocated P13,400 a month each. The salary of a regular soldier is below P10,000.
“How is it that the salary of an integree is double that of a regular soldier? Did the MNLF integrees really receive the P18,000 a month or was it subjected to conversion?” Colmenares said.
During the presentation of the COA budget in the House, Colmenares said COA officials had agreed to give a comprehensive and complete audit report of the entire budget on top of the separate COA reports for each agency or department.
“This will be a major change in auditing the budget and will promote transparency and help eliminate corruption and ghost employees,” Colmenares said.