Buencamino writes political commentary for Action for Economic Reforms. This article was published in Business Mirror January 2,2008 edition, p. A10.

Life’s measure is not on what we have achieved, but on how well we have lived up to our creeds. –  Philip Pestaño in the Philippine Military Academy  (PMA) yearbook

January 1 was Philip Pestaño’s 36th birthday. He was not around to celebrate it.  On Oct. 27, 2005 he was found dead in his cabin in the navy logistics ship, BRP Batangas. Ensign Philip Andrew Azarcon Pestaño was the ship’s deck officer and cargo master.

Here is Fr. James Reuter’s account of the circumstances surrounding Pestaño’s death:

“He discovered that the cargo being loaded onto his vessel included logs that were cut down illegally, were carried to the ship illegally, and were destined to be sold, illegally. Then there were 50 sacks of flour, which were not flour, but shabu—worth billions. Literally, billions. And there were military weapons which were destined for sale to the Abu Sayyaf. He felt that he could not approve this cargo.

“Superior officers came to him and said: ‘Please! Be reasonable! This is big business. It involves many important people. Approve this cargo.’ But Phillip could not, in conscience, sign approval.

“Then his parents received two phone calls, saying: ‘Get your son off that ship! He is going to be killed!’ When Phillip was given leave at home, his family begged him not to go back. Their efforts at persuasion continued until his last night at home, when Phillip was already in bed.

“His father came to him and said: ‘Please, son, resign your commission. Give up your military career. Don’t go back. We want you alive. If you go back to that ship, it will be the end of you!’ But Phillip said to his father: ‘Kawawa ang bayan!’ And he went back to the ship.

“The scheduled trip was very brief—from Cavite to Roxas Boulevard—it usually took only 45 minutes. But on September 27, 1995, it took one hour and a half. When the ship arrived at Roxas Boulevard, Ensign Pestaño was dead.”

The navy immediately ruled his death a suicide, based on a suicide note found in his stateroom. Handwriting experts eventually concluded the note was a forgery.

In 1997, two years after the incident, Gloria Arroyo, then a senator, sponsored a resolution that started a Senate investigation on Pestaño’s mysterious death.

The Senate’s findings are detailed in Senate Report 800.

Here are excerpts from that report:

“Pestaño did not kill himself aboard the BRP Bacolod City….He was bludgeoned unconscious and then shot to death somewhere else in the vessel. His body was moved and laid on the bed where it was found….

“The clear absence of blood spatters, bone fragments or other human tissues is physical evidence more eloquent than a hundred witnesses. It is impossible for a person who has just sustained a fatal head injury to walk from some other place in his room, lie on his bed and drop dead….

“He was killed by an assailant, necessarily aboard the BRP Bacolod City….The attempt to make it appear Pestaño killed himself, inside his stateroom, was so deliberate and elaborate that one person could not have accomplished it by himself.”
The Senate asked Ombudsman Aniano Desierto, a former Judge Advocate General, to reinvestigate the Pestaño case.

He replied, “the conduct of further investigation in order to find out the identity of the perpetrator and his accomplices, if any, will only be a waste of time considering that the physical evidence has already been tampered with, not to mention the lapse of time.”

Fortunately, Desierto’s successor, Simeon Marcelo reopened the case. A complaint for murder and grave misconduct was filed against ship captain LCDR (lieutenant commander) Ordoñez et al.

Unfortunately, there has been very little movement in the case since. The parents of Philip Pestaño said, “Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez (Marcelo’s successor) has not agreed to see us.”

The Pestaño case is the best example of a culture of corruption among the Armed Forces of the Philippines brass.

Here is the intro of a masters’ thesis written by Sen. Antonio Trillanes, then a lieutenant in the Philippine Navy:

“[I]n February 2001, the Philippine Navy (and the AFP) was rocked by a leadership crisis when the Philippine Marines (PMAR) demanded the relief of the Flag-Officer-In-Command, Rear Admiral Wong. 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. 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, and that is the face of CORRUPTION.”

In 2003, Trillanes and the Magdalo group launched the Oakwood Mutiny. It was against unabated corruption in the military.
In 2005, the LTA building, owned by the Arroyos and headquarters of lawyers known as “The Firm”, was bombed by renegade soldiers called Enlightened Warriors. They said:

“We are inspired by the memory of our fallen fellow soldiers who valiantly stood against corruption and for the interest of the country: Navy Ensign Philip Pestaño, 2nd Lieutenant Jessica Chavez, Air Force Captain Panfilo Villaruel Jr. We are illuminated by their spirit and vow to pursue their ideals and make every drop of their blood worth their ultimate sacrifice.”

Gloria Arroyo filed the resolution asking the Senate to investigate the Pestaño case, she can now ensure its resolution – she handpicked Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez, AFP chief Hermogenes Esperon is her personal bodyguard, and she has always claimed, “a president is always as strong as she wants to be.”

So, if she fails to resolve the case, despite all the powers at her command, Philip Pestano’s last words to his parents, “Kawawa ang bayan,” will be a fitting epitaph to Gloria Arroyo’s reign.

Happy New Year.