The Commission on Elections and the Commission on Audit should investigate the P197 million election fund given to the Armed Forces of the Philippines during the 2004 elections. The Summary of Interviews annexed to the Mayuga report raises questions on the possible misuse of the election funds. Based on interviews of various officials involved in the programming and disbursing of funds, the bulk of the funds were not used for AFP units doing election duties, but by the intelligence units of the AFP.
In 2004, the COMELEC released P197 million when it deputized the AFP for election duties nationwide. The funds were supposed to cover expenses of the TF HOPE headquarters, operational expenses, missions and reservists.
In his interview with the Mayuga panel, then Lt. Gen. Rodolfo Garcia who headed the Task Force Honest Orderly and Peaceful Elections (HOPE) suggested that the AFP review how the election funds were spent because it was a big amount of money and that what was spent did not come close to the amount that was released. Though Garcia headed the TF HOPE, he said the funds were not even shown to him. He said he did not know “how the funds were broken down”.
According to Garcia, the funds were under the control of J3 or the General Staff for Operations then headed by M/Gen. Hermogenes Esperon. He said that Esperon was in Mindanao in 2004 as J3 and that he “can be anywhere to supervise…election and non-election matters.”
Meanwhile, Lt.Col. Gilbert Gapay, who was the budget officer of Esperon, testified before the panel that the bulk of the P197 million election funds, amounting to P101 million, was intended for intelligence projects and was therefore released to the Office of the J2 (Intelligence) and the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (ISAFP).
When Esperon was interviewed by the Mayuga panel about the liquidation of the funds, he said that the comptroller of TF HOPE was supposed to do this, but since the TF was disbanded, the liquidation would be done by J6 (Comptroller).
The different personalities interviewed by the Mayuga panel had differing accounts on how funds were approved, released and liquidated. There were inconclusive statements on how the funds were actually used and what steps were taken to properly liquidate these funds. No one was able to offer a definitive explanation on what happened to the funds after the 2004 elections.
According to the testimony of Navy Lt.Cdr. Napoleon Suarez of the AFP budget office, the funds were released in three tranches, P25 million in April 29, P101 million in April 30, and P71 million from April 30 to July 8 and that the Programmed Operating Expenses were prepared by the office of Gen. Esperon.
How were the funds “broken down”? According to AFP records obtained from sources, the P25 million first tranche was used mainly for operational support of various units doing election duty. Of the total amount, ISAFP only got P300,000 for “intelligence operations”.
The allotment of the second tranche was nothing short of astounding. Of the total second tranche of P101 million, P80 million was allotted for the Office of the J2 (Intelligence) for six so-called “intelligence projects”. These intelligence projects went by names such as “Starbucks”, “Nescafe”, “SONA”, “Salakot” and “Turban” and had corresponding Allotment Advise numbers. From the same tranche, the ISAFP received P6 million for operational support. The Philippine Army and the Philippine Navy received P10 million and P5 million respectively for operational support.
Of the third tranche of P71 million, J2 received an additional P5 million for “intelligence projects” while ISAFP received an additional P1.6 million for intelligence operations.
In all, the J2 received a total of P85 million for so-called “intelligence projects”, making it the single biggest recipient of funds from the COMELEC allotment. “Bumukol”, as what Jun Lozada would say when referring to anomalous items. ISAFP meanwhile received a total of P7.9 million also making it one of the bigger recepient of funds. Of P197 million from COMELEC, the total funds for intelligence projects and operations (J2, ISAFP) amounted to P92.9 million (and not P101 million as earlier claimed by Gapay).
Majority of the funds released did not go to the actual AFP units deputized by the COMELEC to perform election duties in the so-called hot spots.
Who approved the programming and release of funds? Some officers interviewed said that the programming of the funds was done by the TF Commander (Garcia) with approval by then AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Narcisso Abaya. Gen. Garcia says he has nothing to do with the funds and was not even aware of the breakdown of the funds. Yet other officers say that the J3 (Esperon) was the one who programmed the funds.
Why was there a need to allot huge funds for J2? One unverifeid theory goes that it was J3 that programmed the huge funds for J2 intelligence projects to give J3 some room for maneuver when it came to the use of funds. After the funds were released to J2, these were allegedly “converted” into cash and given to J3 allegedly for election operations favoring GMA. Since the J2 funds would be unaudited, it would be a perfect way to convert then divert the funds, without having to officially liquidate them. The head of J2,Maj. Gen. Pedro Ramboanga, was a classmate of Gen. Esperon.
The fact that Gen. Garcia, TF HOPE commander himself, had doubts on the use of funds should already compel COA and the Comelec to look into these disbursements.
Comelec and COA should investigate all personalities who may have been involved in the approval, release, use and liquidation of these funds. These include Gen. Esperon, his operations chief then colonel and now M/Gen. Rey Ardo, as well as Esperon’s budget officer Lt.Col. Gapay and even the personnel of the Office of the Comptroller of the AFP GHQ.
While on the matter of funds, some P2.8 million from the COMELEC was allotted to the Presidential Security Group. It is not clear what election-related work the PSG was conducting for it to receive funds from the poll body.
A probe into how the AFP poll funds were used may lead us to how the 2004 elections were rigged and who among the military should be accountable.###