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Philippine Military Corruption Trial Starts

A Philippine Army general has gone on trial for corruption in the government's biggest case to clean up the military. Meanwhile hundreds of young soldiers, facing charges for an attempted coup in 2003, have had their courts' martial postponed.

Philippine Army Major General Carlos Garcia pleaded not guilty in a military court martial Tuesday on charges that he falsely declared his assets. He is accused of amassing some $2 million in cash and real estate on a $600 monthly salary.

Major General Garcia, a former Army finance chief, also posted bail before a separate civilian court, where he faces similar charges.

He is the highest-ranking military officer to be put on trial in the government's renewed effort to fight corruption in the armed forces.

If found guilty, he could face up to six years in prison. Prosecutors say they are also building evidence to charge the general with a more serious crime, plunder, punishable by death.

Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, politics professor at the University of the Philippines, says corruption has been a long standing problem in the military.

"It's a dilemma on the part of the military," he said. "One, they have to address this and show that no one's above the law. But at the same time, they also know that the more serious investigation gets the more exposures that can take place, not only involving General Garcia, but everybody else who was part of the whole scheme."

The government has given more urgent attention to military corruption since some 300 young soldiers seized a luxury apartment complex last year ostensibly to protest graft among their senior commanders. The mutiny ended peacefully but it rattled the government of President Gloria Arroyo.

Criminal charges were to be filed against the soldiers Tuesday but the proceedings were postponed until next week.

The military has played a powerful and influential role in the Philippines. Its members have, in the past, violently challenged the government and have been instrumental in ousting presidents. President Arroyo herself was installed into power in 2001 with the help of the military.

Some analysts say President Arroyo is risking a backlash in the form of a military coup in conducting these investigations.

The newly appointed Armed Forces Chief Efren Abu vowed to support Mrs. Arroyo's efforts to discipline the military.