Arroyo charged with plunder in misuse of PCSO funds
Former President and now Pampanga Representative Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was charged Monday with plunder in the alleged misuse of P366 million in Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) funds that went to “fictitious” expenses in the last two and a half years of her term.
It was the first plunder case filed against Arroyo, who is detained in a government hospital in Quezon City for electoral sabotage, a nonbailable offense like plunder.
Arroyo is also facing two counts of graft and one count of breach of ethics in the Sandiganbayan in connection with her approval of the overpriced National Broadband Network deal with China’s ZTE Corp. The deal has been scrapped.
Uriarte, Morato, Taruc
Also charged with plunder in the Sandiganbayan were former PCSO Chairman Sergio Valencia; former General Manager Rosario Uriarte; former board members Manuel Morato, Jose Taruc V, Raymundo Roquero and Ma. Fatima Valdes; and former budget and accounts manager Benigno Aguas.
Also accused were former Commission on Audit (COA) Chairman Reynaldo Villar and Nilda Plaras, erstwhile intelligence and confidential fund audit unit head.
In a statement, Anacleto Diaz, a lawyer of Arroyo, said the filing of the plunder charge was “another dark day for the rule of law.”
“It appears that the case was filed against the former President to time it with the President’s forthcoming Sona (State of the Nation Address) in which he will be accorded another opportunity to pillory and demonize the former President, and worse, justify her further detention without bail even as a petition for her bail is precisely pending resolution in the court,” Diaz said.
He said the Arroyo camp was “ready to prove that the present charges against her are devoid of merit.”
Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales approved the filing of the plunder charge on
July 13. The charge sheet was signed by Assistant Ombudsman Weomark Layson and graft investigation officer Anna Francesca Limbo.
Arroyo and the former PCSO and COA officials were accused of conspiring to directly or indirectly accumulate P365.99 million in ill-gotten wealth from the PCSO, an agency tasked with providing aid to the poor.
The Office of the Ombudsman said that from January 2008 to June 2010, the accused diverted funds from the PCSO’s operating budget to the confidential or intelligence fund, which could be withdrawn or accessed any time and with few restrictions.
The accused then allegedly converted, misused and illegally transferred the funds for their own use “in the guise of fictitious expenditures.”
The Office of the Ombudsman said Arroyo and her coaccused colluded to raid the public treasury by withdrawing the funds and putting these under their control through irregularly issued disbursement vouchers and bogus expenditures.
In doing these acts, the public officials took advantage of their positions, authority, connections and influence, it said.
They had “unjustly enrich(ed) themselves … at the expense of, and to the damage and prejudice of the Filipino people and the Republic of the Philippines,” the antigraft agency said.
In recommending the filing of charges against Arroyo and former PCSO and COA officials, the Office of the Ombudsman noted that the intelligence fund of the PCSO, an agency tasked with providing for health programs and other charities, grew from P10 million to P103 million in 2008.
It said it was perplexed that additional intelligence funds worth P75 million, P90 million and P150 million for 2008, 2009 and 2010, respectively, were more than double the original amount allocated in its corporate operating budget.
The Office of the Ombudsman also found that the identically worded one-page requests for additional confidential or intelligence funds were not supported by any specific plan, project, program or undertaking of any intelligence activity. The requests in 2008 and 2010 were made even before the PCSO’s corporate operating budget was approved.
Furthermore, it said there were no supporting documents or receipts to show that part of the funds was used to finance relief operations or to pay blood money.
There were also irregularities and deficiencies in how the cash advances were processed. The Office of the Ombudsman said the disbursement vouchers had no supporting documents. There were also false certifications or credit advice.
It also found that there was a lack of authorization to approve intelligence fund disbursements for 2008, and a failure to follow the proper form prescribed for liquidation certifications.
Among the witnesses the Office of the Ombudsman listed for the plunder case were Deputy Customs Commissioner Danilo Lim, former Akbayan Representative Risa Hontiveros and Jamie Regalario of Kilusang Makabayang Ekonomiya. They were among those who filed a plunder complaint against Arroyo for the alleged diversion of PCSO money.
Other witnesses were incumbent PCSO board secretary Eduardo Araullo, PCSO Assistant General Manager Mercedes Hinayon and Antonia Barros of the Senate’s Legislative Records and Archives Division.
Last year, the Senate investigated the disbursements of the PCSO intelligence funds and questioned its use for bomb threats, kidnapping, destabilization and terrorism, which was not part of the agency’s mandate.
Uriarte also allegedly admitted to using the intelligence funds for relief operations and for blood money for the families of those killed by overseas Filipino workers.
Grilled by senators, Uriarte said the PCSO made the biggest spending—P138 million out of the approved P160 million in intelligence fund—in 2010, an election year.
The Senate blue ribbon committee recommended that Arroyo and Uriarte be charged with plunder and technical malversation. It said that the use of the confidential and intelligence funds was “grossly excessive and disproportionate to the claimed reasons for their release.”
The committee said Uriarte would not have obtained the huge amount without the approval of Arroyo, who signed on the margins of memorandums that Uriarte had brought to Malacañang.
“Why persecute me?” Morato asked.
“The use and release of the intelligence funds are between the President and the PCSO president. I was only a director from 2004 to 2010. Our job is only ministerial. How can we override something which had already been approved by the main parties concerned?” said Morato in a phone interview.
Morato side-stepped questions on the legal actions he would take to stop his impending imprisonment. “What can I do? What explanation do they want? We acted in good faith in using the funds for blood money,” he said.
He said that his inclusion in the charge sheet was unjustifiable and that it was largely meant as “payback” for being one of the loudest critics of Mr. Aquino during the 2010 election campaign.
Bayan Muna Representative Teodoro Casiño said it was about time the Ombudsman acted on the case the party-list group filed more than a year ago against Arroyo.
“This is a good development considering that the Ombudsman stuck with our original charge of plunder and we hope that the case can now move faster,” said Casiño.
He said this was probably “the strongest case” that had the best chance of putting Arroyo in jail.
Casiño appealed to Uriarte to spill the beans on Arroyo. “We know that you (Uriarte) were used by Gloria to get what she wants. This is the best time to tell all you know and turn state witness. It would be a very big load off [your] conscience,” he said. With reports from Gil C. Cabacungan, PDI; Karen Boncocan and TetchTorres, INQUIRER.net; and Radyo Inquirer
Originally posted at 03:16 pm | Monday, July 16, 2012