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Military told to get ex-troops’ statements vs erring general

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By Joel Guinto
INQUIRER.net
First Posted 15:26:00 04/01/2008

MANILA, Philippines — Military prosecutors could gather statements from ex-soldiers as part of evidence in an extortion case against a two-star general and his subordinate, a spokesman for the Army said.

Although the former troops who had since been discharged after it was discovered that they had been enlisted illegally could not be compelled to appear before military investigators, they could be invited to testify as “resource persons” against Major General Jose Barbieto and Staff Sergeant Roseller Echipare, Lieutenant Colonel Ernesto Torres Jr. told reporters in Camp Aguinaldo on Tuesday.

On Monday, the Army announced the cancellation of the enlistment of 184 soldiers assigned to the 4th Infantry Division in Cagayan de Oro City amid allegations that Barbieto and Echipare had extorted money from them in exchange for their entry into military service.

Barbieto was the former commander of the 4th Infantry Division. The two are restricted to quarters in Fort Bonifacio and are facing pre-trial investigation in preparation for possible court martial.

Torres said it was not clear however whether all 184 former soldiers were victims of the alleged extortion racket where some of the troops had been accepted despite being below the required height or had faked their birth certificates.

“That [alleged extortion] is precisely what the investigation is looking at in the case of Major General Barbieto and Staff Sergeant Echipare. That is what the investigation is trying to establish,” the spokesman said.

“They [184 ex-soldiers] may be asked to give their testimonies to shed light on the case,” he said.

Torres said there was no immediate plan to pursue charges against the former soldiers who had paid for their enlistment. “The fact that their enlistment was terminated, that’s a big deal,” he said.

At the same time, Torres denied suspicions that the Army was treating Barbieto, a classmate of Military Chief General Hermogenes
Esperon Jr., with kids’ gloves.

The Army started investigating Barbieto’s case in late February but he was restricted to quarters only last March 18, five days after the order was issued. His restriction was announced only last Monday.

Moreover, Barbieto was allowed to go on leave when the investigation started. He was relieved as 4th Infantry Division commander only in early March, after the Sandiganbayan anti-graft court ordered his suspension.

“I don’t see any difference as to investigating somebody else, another officer, let’s say a lieutenant or a captain, because we are investigating everybody according to the existing laws and we are applying them equally,” Torres said.

Barbieto is the second major general, after retired general Carlos Garcia, to face court martial for alleged corruption.

Garcia, a former military comptroller, was convicted in December 2006. His benefits were forfeited and he was sentenced to imprisonment and hard labor.

View article as posted on INQUIRER.net

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Written by joelguinto

TueUTC2008-04-01T07:35:01+00:00UTC04bUTCTue, 01 Apr 2008 07:35:01 +0000 22, 2006 at 12:45 am04

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