Philippine leader vows punishment in graft scandal

AP News
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Posted: Mar 06, 2011 4:48 AM
Philippine leader vows punishment in graft scandal

President Benigno Aquino III vowed Sunday to punish officers linked to a high-profile corruption scandal and ordered a new military chief to make reforms aimed at halting large-scale graft in one of Asia's weakest militaries.

Aquino used a speech at a graduation ceremony at the prestigious Philippine Military Academy _ traditionally focused on anti-insurgency and national security issues _ to admonish the 196 graduating cadets to resist graft.

"I hope you can say `no' when somebody dumps a truckload of money in front of you," Aquino said to loud applause at the academy, patterned after the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. "You're here not to get rich."

Corruption, long entrenched in Philippine society, is an especially explosive issue in the ill-equipped and poorly paid 126,000-strong military and has sparked several insurrections by disgruntled troops in the last two decades. Soldiers have been struggling with a dearth of weapons while battling communist and Muslim rebels and al-Qaida-linked extremists.

A new scandal broke out in January when a former military budget officer testified before the Philippine Senate that at least three retired military chiefs of staff pocketed huge amounts of money siphoned off from budgets for troop salaries, weapons, intelligence and a military hospital.

One of the accused, Gen. Angelo Reyes, denied the allegation but committed suicide at his mother's grave last month as the Senate investigation continued.

Aquino, who won a landslide election victory last year on a promise to battle corruption and poverty, told the cadets at the academy in northern Baguio city that corruption flourished in the past because it was tolerated.

Aquino said some officers openly enjoyed lavish lifestyles, splurging on foreign trips with their wives.

"We'll have these robbers and their cohorts pay for their crimes," he said. "Nobody will be spared."

Aquino said his anti-corruption campaign has raised funds that allowed the government to finance 20,000 low-cost houses for soldiers and police officers this year.

He also announced that retiring military chief of staff Gen. Ricardo David Jr. will be succeeded this week by Eduardo Oban Jr., a three-star air force general without extensive combat experience but whose name has not been tainted by graft scandals.

Aquino ordered Oban to press on with reforms aimed at curbing graft, promoting human rights and bolstering talks with insurgents.

Leading a military hounded by corruption controversies "is a big challenge," said Oban, who assumes his post Monday.

Oban told the ABS-CBN TV network that he would review the handling of the military's finances, including procurement.