Thursday, May 28, 2009

Writ of Amparo

It was reportedly “imported” from South America as a response to the widespread extra-judicial killings of journalists and activists which have proliferated in the last decade. The Writ of Amparo (Spanish for “protection”) was promulgated by Philippine Supreme Court Chief Justice Reynato Puno and his associate justices on October 24, 2007 to provide an opportunity for aggrieved parties to seek a Court order directing the military and police authorities to spare a particular individual from harm.

On May 20, 2009, the Philippine Supreme Court issued a Writ of Amparo to protect Philippine Navy Lt. First Grade Nancy Gadian from the military authorities who had issued an all points bulletin for her arrest allegedly for being a “deserter” after she failed to return to duty when her leave of absence expired on April 21, 2009. Five days before her leave expired, Lt. Gadian filed for resignation after learning of a clandestine military effort to silence her. She has gone into hiding.

Lt. Gadian became a military target after she accused her commanding officers of embezzling the P46 million pesos ($963,240.00) allocated by the US military to the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) for use in its 2007 Balikatan (shoulder-to-shoulder) exercises in Mindanao. Specifically, she accused now retired Lt. General Eugenio Cedo, then chief of the Western Mindanao Command, of making the Balikatan funds a “milking cow” for his own personal use. Cedo denied the charge.

As the deputy chief for civil-military operations during Balikatan 2007, Lt. Gadian was in a position to know exactly how the funds were allocated and how they were actually spent or misspent and who were responsible for any misappropriation of these funds.

In response to the accusations, AFP officials charged that Lt. Gadian was a “lavish spender” who couldn’t account for an expenditure of P14,000 pesos ($300) and for “insubordination” for publicly airing her charges rather than reporting them to the superiors she had accused of corruption.

On May 11, 2009, Lt. Gadian wrote Jaro Archbishop Angel Lagdameo, president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, to refute the charges against her . “Over the years, Balikatan exercises have been conducted in the Philippines and over the years millions of money have been spent for nothing. And who benefitted the most? The high-ranking officials of the AFP. Only a centavo went to the operating troops on the ground, but worst scenario is that nothing went to them and only a meager amount went to support the projects.”

“For 2007 alone, the Civil Military Operations (CMO) Events have only a total of P2.3 M released to support the entire CMO activities in Mindanao. These funds went as far as the foot soldiers on the ground because I have personally seen their sufferings and it is but proper that they will receive what is supposed to be entitled to them. During my term as the Officer-in-Charge of the CMO Fusion Cell, I made sure that everything will be placed in order. But it really so hurting that after what I have done,” she wrote, “I find myself as the one being charged….”

Lt. Gadian fears that if she is apprehended by military authorities, she will suffer the same fate as that of another whistleblower, Navy Ensign Phillip Andrew Pestaño, who was found dead in his room on the ship BRP Bacolod City in 1995, a victim of a murder conspiracy according to his parents and a Senate investigation, but a “suicide” according to the AFP.

Lt. Gadian’s parents, Jose and Virgilita Gadian, are poor farmers from South Cotabato who are proud of their daughter for being the first in her family to graduate from college receiving a bachelor’s degree in customs administration from the Mindanao Polytechnic University and then graduating from the Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps in 1989 when she was awarded the “AFP Cadet of the Year” by then Pres. Corazon Aquino. They fear not only for their daughter but also for their daughter’s children who are under heavy surveillance in case Lt. Gadian contacts them.

But the stink of corruption being raised by Lt. Gadian may cause larger problems for the AFP than just being a public relations nightmare. The Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs recently confirmed that the Obama Administration has allocated an estimated total of $667 million for the Philippines for 2010, more than had been allocated for 2009. If Lt. Gadian’s charges of corruption in the AFP were to find their way to the US Congress, this allocation may be jeopardized.

Fearing this threat, the AFP recently cleared Lt. Gadian of any charges of malversation of funds. Lt. Col. Romeo Brawner, AFP public affairs office chief and spokesman, announced that an AFP internal audit had determined that all funds assigned to Lt. Gadian were accounted for and “spent according to program”.
Lt. Gadian has been asked to come back to the fold but she remains defiant. “We are in a democratic country,” she said, “the mere fact that I voluntarily submitted my personnel action form, that means I don’t want to work in the AFP anymore…my reason is very clear, serving in the AFP is no longer dignified.”

Will the military authorities res pect the Writ of Amparo issued by the Philippine Supreme Court for the protection of Lt. Gadian?

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