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Remember Oakwood?

By NEWSBREAK

The Feliciano Commission’s report reflects its internal problems and constraints.

MANILA, Philippines – Where is Gringo in all this?

The name of Sen. Gregorio “Gringo” Honasan, accused by government of

planting the seeds of the botched July 27 Oakwood mutiny, appeared at
least 15 times in the final report of the Feliciano Commission (view
full text of report in the documents section of INQ7.net-INQ7.net ed),
which was tasked to investigate the incident.

Yet, this doesn’t say much about what he actually did or did not do to
abet the mutiny. Like a hastily finished novel, the report dropped
hints about him as the villain and titillated readers on his “alleged”
and “reported” presence in clandestine meetings and bloodletting rites
held by mutinous young military officers before D-Day.

But it stopped there.

The commission concluded that the mutiny had been planned and well-funded, yet did not directly point to any civilian or public official who may have aided the rebels. It recommended “due diligence by commanding officers” who oversee troops in the field, but fell short of holding anyone liable for his troops’ participation in the mutiny. In asking that the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency go back to its original mandate of coordinating all intelligence agencies, the commission didn’t say if this recommendation resulted from its findings about a failure of intelligence prior to the mutiny.

 

Major Constraints

“The report is not perfect,” said University of the Philippines Professor Carolina Hernandez, spokesperson of the six-person commission headed by retired Supreme Court justice Florentino Feliciano that labored for two months to probe the incident and its root causes. The 148-page document (excluding annexes) tackled some of the biggest problems facing the military today but gave us information we already know about the mutiny.

Which is a pity, considering that when it was created, the commission resolved, among others, “to conduct a thorough fact-finding mission to investigate…the involvement of military personnel and civilian personalities including public officials and employees” in the failed exercise.

Worse, some of the commissioners were surprised over omissions from the final draft of the reports they submitted to Feliciano. These pertain to discussions on the intelligence funds of government (drafted by Commissioner Rex Robles), estimates of how much senior officers are earning from “conversion” in the military (drafted by Robles), and a recommendation on how to resolve the aircraft-to-pilot imbalance in the Air Force (drafted by Commissioner Joaquin Bernas SJ). As NEWSBREAK went to press, plans were being finalized to publish a “supplementary” report that would contain these, according to Robles and Roland Narciso, two former military officers on the commission. All commission members, except Feliciano, are expected to sign it. That’s akin to a mutiny within the already defunct fact-finding body.

What caused all these are constraints that the commissioners faced from the day they began their work in August. For one, they were hoping that Congress would craft a law creating the body, which would have allotted it a budget and granted it more investigative powers. With the Senate and the House scampering to do their own televised probe into the mutiny, the law was doomed. Thus, the commission had to get funds from Malacañang.

Second, the commission didn’t have enough time. The Davide Commission that looked into the 1989 coup and all other coups against the Aquino administration worked for 10 months to produce the most exhaustive document on military politics in recent history. On the other hand, the Feliciano Commission gave itself a deadline of two months to beat the election frenzy.

Third—and perhaps the most crucial—the commission was “not as neatly and systematically organized,” Hernandez admitted. Robles and Narciso agree, citing organizational problems and, to some extent, personality clashes among the commissioners.

The result was a weak “Part 1” of the report, which delved into the circumstances behind the Oakwood exercise, and a stronger “Part 2,” which scrutinized the military’s long-time ills on how it procures supplies and equipment, spends its budget, manages collections from soldiers, and addresses their grievances.

The fact-finding body dug deep into the cause of the mutiny—soldiers’ grievances—but was unable to answer deeper questions on how the mutiny came about.

 

Civilian Side

Hernandez laments this limitation. “I wish the civilian component [of the mutiny] could have been more defined,” she told NEWSBREAK. “But you needed to establish intelligence…and because we worked for a short period of time, we didn’t have that luxury.” Yet, the commission had nine legal counsels to aid it in the sensitive aspects of the probe.

Without an experienced research team to collect information independent from what government agencies or the coup plotters were willing to provide, the commission had a tough time verifying the testimonies of its 95 witnesses. “I wanted to do my own interviews with civilians and not just rely on testimonies…but there was no budget and time for that,” Robles said. Recalled Narciso: “There was no system. Witnesses would just arrive and we had no background information on them…. We had no team to verify if they were telling the truth.”

The commission lacked an overall administrator, which proved to be a bane because of the varied styles of the commissioners and the fact that, according to Hernandez, Feliciano “is basically a thinker,” not a manager. The diversity of the members’ interests and backgrounds caused some heated discussions behind closed doors. The most senior member, Feliciano, is in his 70s, while the youngest, Narciso, is in his 30s.

For two weeks, both men had an impassioned debate on one issue: whether or not the commission should acknowledge the agreement between government and the Oakwood mutineers that they be tried under the military justice system. The mutineers had accused government of reneging on that agreement because they were eventually charged before the justice department. Narciso wanted the agreement acknowledged—the part that cited the enforcement of the law against those involved in coup plots—noting that he was not assigned to the commission to let his classmates “fry.” Now a commercial pilot, Narciso belongs to Class 1995 of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) to which most of the mutineers belong.

Feliciano would not budge, and Robles tried to explain Narciso’s predicament this way: that soldiers treat their classmates like family because of the training they went through at PMA. Robles quoted Feliciano as telling him: “I pity the country if there are people who [think] that way.”

The compromise: Narciso’s comments were put in a footnote.

 

Supplementary Report

The unfortunate combination of all these problems resulted in a report that Robles and Narciso say has significant omissions.

One involves the report on the sharing of intelligence funds among government agencies, which the commission established to be lopsided in favor of civilian agencies—to the detriment of national security agencies such as the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (ISAFP).

“The amounts allocated to the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) from the Confidential and Intelligence Funds (CIF), particularly to ISAFP, seem disproportionately small (less than 8 percent of the total CIF for the AFP; less than 3 percent in the case of ISAFP), yet the Armed Forces and ISAFP…carry a much heavier burden of responsibility in quality and quantity of intelligence targets than all other agencies combined, to include the Office of the President,” said the draft written by Robles which was not included in the final report.

The Office of the President had 650 million pesos in CIF for year 2003, while ISAFP had 34 million pesos. The excluded draft proposes that the entire intelligence set-up be reassessed “with a view to upgrading funds support for intelligence assets and agents in the field.”

While the final report discussed the problem of conversion (the process of converting allocated funds into cash, in collusion with suppliers and officers involved in the procurement system of the military), it skipped the draft that made estimates of how much commanders had been earning from this malpractice. The draft says that at the major service command level (for example, Army chief), “it is possible to amass 40 to 50 million pesos annually and depending on the efficacy of controls in place and the creativity of the commander, this figure can reach 100 million pesos a year.” Thus, the draft concludes, “it is not difficult at all to arrive at a conservative figure of 200 to 300 million pesos a year in lost funds for the AFP.”

Also, the report singled out as a problem in the Air Force the poor ratio between pilots and the number of aircraft they can train on. The recommendations to resolve this, however, did not find their way into the final report.

Notwithstanding these omissions, which Robles says were not fully explained by Feliciano, it’s the first time that a government fact-finding body extensively tackled the procurement, benefits, and grievance systems in the military, though some (military housing and the Retirement Benefits Service System) had been widely discussed in the media and congressional investigations. The recommendations to address these are also very specific, and any government serious in reforming the Armed Forces can implement them immediately.

Hernandez has her own recommendation, which was not in the final report. She had wanted the commission to recommend a “continuing training program on civil military relations for politicians and bureaucrats.”

That’s a harmless but important statement that even the Oakwood mutineers would most likely welcome.

 

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