May 21, 2009

One brave woman

Should Lieutenant First Grade Nancy Gadian manage to live to tell her story about anomalies and corruption in the Armed Forces of the Philippine (AFP), she will have carved a niche for herself among the thinning ranks of today’s whistleblowers. For Lt. Gadian has all the disadvantages working against her. She is a junior officer accusing a general; she is not a graduate of the fiercely fraternal Philippine Military Academy; and, not least of all, she is a woman in a time-honored bastion of machismo. She will have trumped her military detractors, persecutors and wannabe assassins (those engaged in character assassination as well as the more physical kind) without having to launch an armed rebellion to gain attention.

Lt. Gadian accused retired Lt. General Eugenio Cedo, then chief of the Western Mindanao Command, and other senior officers of misusing the P46 million intended for the RP-US Balikatan exercises in 2007. Gen. Cedo has denied the accusations. As the deputy chief for civil-military operations during Balikatan 2007, she was well-placed to know what activities had been planned, how funds were allocated, how the money was actually spent and who were responsible for any misappropriation or outright misuse of these funds.

AFP officials reacted to Lt. Gadian’s accusations by painting her as a “lavish spender” who couldn’t account for an expenditure of P14,000; as someone with an axe to grind against her superiors because she was the object of administrative sanctions; as a “deserter” for having gone AWOL or absent-without-leave even as she had already filed her resignation a week before her leave ended; and worse of all, as a soldier guilty of “insubordination” for airing her charges in public rather than reporting these to her superiors (the very same ones who she perceives to be oppressing her with trumped-up charges).

The AFP officials appear to be in a panic over her accusations and what more she may be willing to reveal. They have alternately tried to assure her of her safety and lenient treatment if she will surrender to them and then threatened her with a manhunt, arrest, court martial and the loss of all her retirement benefits.

Her relatives have been scared out their wits by the heavy surveillance that Lt. Gadian and her children have been subjected to given her explosive public statements and the precedent of the fate that befell another whistleblower, Navy Ensign Phillip Andrew Pestaño, who was found dead inside his stateroom on the ship BRP Bacolod City(LC 550) in 1995, a victim of foul-play according to his parents and a Senate investigation, but a suicide according to the AFP.

Lt. Gadian’s sister has filed in her behalf a petition for a writ of amparo with the Supreme Court. Her lawyers have argued that she deserves the protection of this new writ because she has good reason to fear for her life, safety ad security. Should Lt. Gadian’s petition be granted she will gain a reprieve from the AFP’s manhunt and will give her enough breathing space to testify and even file charges against her persecutors.

Lt. Gadian is one brave woman. According to her lawyer, she has a reputation for being honest, competent and for being a hard worker. If all she wanted to do was to get herself off the hook with regard to the administrative complaints against her, she could have just found herself a padrino. Going through the trouble, not to mention the danger, of getting back at your commanding officer in order to evade responsibility for a a minor charge does not make any sense.

Now if the accusations are baseless and all the Balikatan 2007 funds accounted for, as military spokespersons aver, what have the generals and Malacañang got to fear from a mere lieutenant crying wolf?

In fact, they should have welcomed Lt. Gadian’s testimony, recognized the difficult situation she is in, and at the minimum assured her of her safety while acting with dispatch to do an honest-to-goodness investigation. Instead they immediately rose to the defense of Gen. Cedo, reiterated that all Balikatan accounts were “cleared” and turned their guns on the whistleblower who, as if she were the guilty party, was challenged to file a complaint before the “proper” body.

One doesn’t have to be an expert to recognize that a whitewash had already been set into motion the minute Lt. Gadian uttered her accusations.

A Commission on Audit report has recently come to light showing the military’s failure to return to the national treasury unused remittances from two consecutive Balikatan exercises, in 2006 and 2007. This was only belatedly admitted by the AFP and indicates that not all is fine and dandy as the military authorities want to make it appear. The case is serious enough for Malacañang to have ordered a special investigation into the matter by the defense department.

Now the AFP has given this single mother of two growing children a 48-hour deadline to turn herself in or else she would be declared a deserter and dropped from the rolls after 90 days. This is curious because military spokespersons have already done just that, declare her a “deserter”. As to wanting out from the military establishment that she had served for the better part of her productive years, she had already resigned before she was due back from her leave of absence.

If the AFP general headquarters means to dangle Lt. Gadian’s retirement pay as bait for her to surface, it would seem that is now the least of her concerns. Staying alive and keeping her kids safe is her priority until she can be given a chance to give her testimony and blow the lid off the endemic corruption in the military.

The Navy spokesperson says the AFP has issued the surrender deadline because it “can no longer allow itself to be dragged in an unfounded controversy”. In the same breath, he declares, “There has to be an investigation as to who misused the funds and who caused it so that there will be determination of guilt, rectification and correction of certain policies.”

Perhaps the AFP needs reminding that an investigation is probably what Lt. Gadian wanted in the first place. The immediate denial of wrongdoing by AFP spokespersons and bully tactics against Lt. Gadian together with the initial hemming and hawing exhibited by Malacañang only underscore the point that any investigation to be believed will have to be undertaken by a completely independent and trustworthy body. Certainly not by members of The Old Boys Club in Camp Aguinaldo nor the militarized defense department that has been reduced to a mere civilian appendage of the AFP.

Lt. Gadian appears to be no push-over. She knows through the bitter experience of the Pestaño family that her neck is now on the line. She also knows that the AFP and Malacanañg are doing everything they can, by fair means or foul, to prevent the public from concluding that the only “good” coming out of the RP-US military exercises sanctioned by the Visiting Forces Agreement is that the corrupt generals get to have another fat milking cow to gorge on.

She deserves our wholehearted sympathy and support. #


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