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    Crooks in high places

Some years ago, a group of Davao City officials went to Central Mindanao to deliver some relief goods to people displaced by conflict. What they saw at the evacuation centres did not really surprise them: people suffering from displacement tend to look the same wherever one finds them. What shocked them was the sight of the soldiers returning from battle: they were a pitiful bunch, hardly armed, their uniforms in tatters, and perhaps worst of all, walking around in common rubber slippers. When asked where their combat boots were, the soldiers simply replied that there were none to speak of.

That was – and still is – the condition of many soldiers in the fields of Mindanao and elsewhere in the country. While they work tirelessly to secure the civilian population from various threats, they themselves are at the mercy not just of enemies but also of the elements themselves. There is as little protection from bullets as there is for rain, floods, heat and other extremes that nature so often unleashes. Running around in the mountains wearing only slippers on one’s feet is a brutal punishment that no one deserves.

In light of the recent revelations made by former military officer-turned-whistle blower George Rabusa and the confirmations of former Commission on Audit (COA) auditor Heidi Mendoza, this state of affairs is nothing short of criminal. According to Rabusa, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) is actually awash with cash, but the money does not go towards the welfare of soldiers but is shared by a few men at the top of the pyramid. Chiefs of staff, in particular, have huge amounts at their personal disposal, and when they retire they get “send-off” money amounting to millions of pesos. They get to pocket cash while the common soldiers fight – and all too often die – with hardly anything on their feet.

It is time to run after these crooks in high places and make them pay for their crimes.

Jon Joaquin is the managing editor of the largest circulation newspaper in Mindanao, the Mindanao Daily Mirror in Davao City.

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