AN OPPOSITION lawmaker on Friday accused the Armed Forces, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and Interior and Local Governments Secretary Manuel Roxas II of pocketing almost half of the P41.45 million in reward money for the arrest of top communist leaders.
The accusation by Bayan Muna Rep. Isagani Carlos Zarate came in the wake of the misdeclaration by the Armed Forces of the bounty imposed on captured communist leaders, one of whom was shown to be a case of mistaken identity, and another of whom was discovered to be missing since 2007.
The top two communist leaders, Benito and Wilma Tiamzon, claimed they had P1.5 million in hard cash intended for the Yolanda victims when they were captured in Cebu last month but said the military claimed it only recovered P23,000 from the couple.
Zarate said the documents from the Defense Department under Gazmin and the Interior and Local Government Department under Roxas showed the bounty on the heads of the Tiamzon couple was pegged at P10 million each, for a total of P20 million.
But the Armed Forces had understated the amount and publicly announced the reward collected was P11.52 million, or P5.6 million per head, Zarate said.
“Secretary Gazmin and Roxas, as well as the AFP, should account for the total amount actually released as the two officials have been quiet about the AFP’s understated funds for reward money that they had collected. This involves a total of P41.45 million, of which amount, the AFP claimed to have collected only some P22.4 million. So where is the rest of the reward money?” Zarate said.
He said a “hit list” issued by Roxas and Gazmin was used as a money-making venture by the Armed Forces, even after the Court of Appeals ascertained that one of the “leaders” was just a security guard.
“The AFP collected the P5.6 million in reward money and refused to return the bounty despite the CA ruling,” Zarate said.
Zarate gave credence to the claim made by the Tiamzon couple that the Armed Forces, along with other state agencies that arrested them, might have taken the P1.5 million meant for the victims of super typhoon Yolanda “considering that it seems to be standard AFP practice to misdeclare funds.”
“Case in point is the supposed bounty for Benito Tiamzon and Wilma Austria which after about a week of their capture the AFP announced that they had P5.6 million each on their heads, but based on the Joint Memorandum 2012-14 of the DILG-DND which they are using, the bounty is P10 million each. It was only after we filed a resolution to investigate this that they corrected the figure,” Zarate said.
Aside from the understating of the Tiamzons’ bounty, Zarate said, three other similar cases had been recorded.
“Another case is the supposed bounty for Jorge “Ka Oris” Madlos, which again they said was P5.6 million but in actuality was P7.85 million,” Zarate said.
Zarate also cited the case of Leo Velasco, which the Armed Forces stated to carry P5.6-million bounty on his head but based on the joint memorandum was more than P8 million.
“What is more bizarre though is that they increased his bounty even if they knew that Velasco was missing since 2007,” Zarate said.
“With this pattern of fund misdeclaration, it is not far off that the AFP also got the P1.5 million and only declared P23,000, dividing the remainder among themselves,” he said.
Zarate said the memo from the Defense and Interior departments with a 235-person hit list for communist leaders was just being used by officials to collect reward money.
This was the same list used to arrest Rolly Panesa, a security guard, who the Armed Forces said was a ranking communist leader , Danilo Benjamin Mendoza, with a P5.6 million reward on his head, Zarate said.
“The Fifth Division of the Court of Appeals ordered Panesa freed last August 27, 2013,” said Zarate.
“This is dangerous and alarming. The hit list allows anyone to be captured, just like in the case of Panesa, who was mugged and tortured by his military captors. Panesa, a security guard, was jailed for several months in a case of mistaken identity that the CA declared as such,” Zarate said.
What was worse, Zarate said, was that the Armed Forces had collected the supposed P5.6-million bounty and never returned the money despite the CA ruling.
“This hit list and other similar lists should not be used again because it endangers the lives of individuals even those not in the list,” Zarate said.