On February 2001, the Philippine Navy (and the Armed Forces of the Philippines) was rocked by a leadership crisis when the Philippine Marines (PMAR) demanded the relief of the Flag-Officer-In-Command, Rear Admiral Guillermo Wong (Pazzibugan, 2001). The crisis was triggered by the berating of the Marines by RAdm Wong for alleged irregularities in the procurement of P3.8 million worth of Kevlar Helmets (Pablo, 2001). In the events that followed, the Marines prevailed and RAdm Wong was stripped of his command and was ‘promoted’ to an ambassadorial post. The crisis, while it was eventually resolved peacefully, exposed a previously unseen face of the Navy — the face of CORRUPTION.
Armed Forces chief Gen. Angelo Reyes ordered Wong’s transfer to the newly created Northern Command, but the former Navy chief refused to comply with the order, which he considered a demotion, and opted instead for early retirement.
Sources said the order of Reyes, who also bows out of the service on March 17 when he reaches the mandatory retirement age of 56, was meant to appease the Marines who threatened to stage a "mutiny" if Wong was not removed.
Wong was later persuaded to simply go on "floating status" until his official retirement in December.
Reyes said Wong violated a military credo providing that criticism of fellow soldiers should be done in private.
Wong gave Marine officers a dressing down for alleged irregularity in the procurement of helmets and rifles for the unit.
Nevertheless, Reyes ordered an investigation into Wong’s allegations involving alleged anomalous purchase of P3.9 million worth of substandard Kevlar helmets and the missing 100 Heckler and Koch sub-machine guns worth P7.2 million.
Reyes has referred the case on the Kevlar helmets to the Office of the Ombudsman even as a probe is still ongoing regarding the missing weapons. GMA scored for rewarding Espinosa
The militant Confederation for Unity, Recognition and Advancement of Government Employees (COURAGE) criticized President Arroyo for rewarding Espinosa who was linked to the Marine Corps mess.
"The government is not a basket case of scalawag officers," said COURAGE leader Ferdie Gaite.
Gaite was reacting to the President’s pronouncement that Espinosa would be designated head of the Manila Economic and Cultural Office (MECO) in Taipei, Taiwan if he wanted the position.
"If he wants to be in MECO, he can have it. It’s his for the asking," Mrs. Arroyo had said.
Gaite said Reyes should also be condemned for gagging Wong on the controversy.
The party-list Sanlakas urged the people to prepare for EDSA 3 to oust corrupt officials of the military and other government agencies.
Sanlakas leader Wilson Fortaleza said there is a need to cleanse the AFP and other government offices to improve the lives of the people.
Fortaleza also said the Arroyo administration even gives special treatment to corrupt officials.
The Kilusang Mayo Uno, for its part, reminded Mrs. Arroyo to prioritize the needs of the people over modernizing the military.
Meanwhile, the military is reviewing its shopping list to determine which items would be bought first under its P330-billion modernization program.
Brig. Gen. Cristolito Balaoing, chief of the Armed Forces Modernization Program Management Office, said the review was necessary to maximize the use of an initial tranche of P4.484 billion due for release this year.
The President has pledged to allocate an additional P3 billion this year.
"We cannot negotiate until July because of the election period. By the end of the year, we are optimistic that contracts would be up for approval," Balaoing told reporters.
He said all existing military equipment and facilities will be upgraded.
On top of the list for General Headquarters is the acquisition and improvement of communication and command control systems, as well as the production of ammunition.
The Army is eyeing the procurement of 155 mm. howitzers, light planes, night vision goggles, portable air defense systems, bridging equipment, armored recovery vehicles and anti-tank missiles.
On the other hand, the Navy preferred that their existing equipment be upgraded, and if funds permit, it wants to buy off-shore patrol vessels, corvettes, a missile system, mine sweeper, surface-to-air missiles, transport ships and a dredger.
On the other hand, the Air Force wants a multi-role aircraft, air defense radar, long-range patrol craft and surface attack aircraft.
The modernization program has made very little progress since the enactment of Republic Act 7898, also known as the Armed Forces Modernization Law.
Balaoing said biddings should be held this year, otherwise, the P5.484 billion goes back to the national treasury.
Meanwhile, Wong was honored by his alma mater with a testimonial parade.
Wong, a classmate of PMA Superintendent Maj. Gen. Manuel Carranza, was earlier scheduled to be honored by the school with a parade-in-review on March 10, but the affair had to be advanced in view of his decision to leave the service early.
Sen. Rodolfo Biazon clarified yesterday that the alleged anomalous purchase of helmets and submachine guns for the Marines took place in 1998 when the Marine Corps was still under Lt. Gen. Edgardo Espinosa, one of the contenders for the top military post.
Biazon, himself a former Armed Forces chief and Marine commandant, said outgoing Philippine Navy chief Rear Admiral Guillermo Wong had apologized for implicating him in the controversy.
Biazon’s clarification virtually cleared Ladia of any complicity in the irregularity.
On the other hand, Senate President Aquilino Pimentel Jr. said it would be best to give the Office of the Ombudsman a free hand in investigating the alleged irregularity.
Biazon, chairman of the Senate committee on national defense, said he is reconsidering his decision to inhibit himself from the inquiry on the controversy after Wong’s apology.
"Wong’s apology came even before newspapers published reports linking my name to the anomaly," Biazon said.
Wong had linked Biazon to two alleged winning bidders, Timbol Trading and Lemus Trading, for the supply of the Kevlar helmets worth P3.9 million and Heckler and Koch sub-machine guns valued at P7.2 million.
Biazon pointed out, however, that Timbol and Lemus were not among the four winning bidders, which he identified as Indski, Hawkeye, Sole Solutions and Lesmar.
In his speech before the Marines on Feb. 15, Wong exposed alleged irregularity in the procurement of the weapons and helmets.
The Marines reacted strongly to Wong’s accusations and threatened to stage a mutiny.
In a bid to defuse the tension, Reyes sacked Wong even as he tossed the issue to the Ombudsman.
Espinosa welcomed the investigations, adding he would happily retire if he does not get the top AFP post.
Biazon admitted he allocated P10 million last year for the purchase of night vision goggles for the Marines upon the request of the unit.
He said Sen. Gregorio Honasan, also a former Army colonel, allocated another P10 million for the same purpose. Desierto clears Biazon of P11-M controversy
Desierto described as "far-fetched" the alleged involvement of Biazon in the P11-million Marine mess.
"The senators can provide funds for these," Desierto said. He added, however, that if new names would crop up in their probe, they might also look into the possible involvement of senators.