Gloria Arroyo held liable for misuse of P366M PCSO fund
MANILA—Former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was charged Monday with plunder for the misuse of P366 million in Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office funds that went to “fictitious” expenses in the last two-and 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 non-bailable offense like plunder.
Also charged with plunder in the Sandiganbayan were former PCSO board chair 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.
Included as well were former Commission on Audit chair Reynaldo Villar and Nilda Plaras, erstwhile intelligence and confidential fund audit unit head.
The filing of the case came just a week before the third State of the Nation Address of President Aquino, who has been a constant critic of his predecessor whom he blames for many of the country’s problems.
Progressive groups however are asking the president to stop blaming the previous administration.
Mr. Aquino himself should account for his administration’s lapses and shortcomings when he delivers his third State of the Nation Address on Monday, according to Renato Reyes of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, an umbrella organization of militant groups.
Blaming Arroyo for the problems is a tired, old refrain, he said.
Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales approved 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 money from the PCSO, an agency that is tasked with providing aid to the impoverished.
The Office of the Ombudsman alleged 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the accused diverted funds from the PCSO’s operating budget to the confidential or intelligence fund, which could be withdrawn or accessed any time and with few restrictions.
They then allegedly converted, misused, of illegally transferred the funds for their own use “in the guise of fictitious expenditures.”
The Office of the Ombudsman said Arroyo and her co-accused 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 then 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 anti-graft agency further alleged.
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 allegedly overpriced national broadband network deal with China’s ZTE Corp.
The electoral sabotage case was filed against her in the Pasay City regional trial court.
Among the witnesses the Office of the Ombudsman listed for the plunder case were Customs Deputy Commissioner Danilo Lim, former Akbayan Rep. Risa Hontiveros and Jamie Regalario of the Kilusang Makabayang Ekonomiya. They are among those who filed a plunder complaint against Arroyo for the alleged diversion of PCSO money.
The witnesses also include incumbent PCSO board secretary Eduardo Araullo, PCSO assistant general manager Mercedes Hinayon and Antonina Barrios of the Senate’s Legislative Records and Archives Division.
The Senate investigated the disbursements of the PCSO intelligence funds and questioned its use for bomb threats, kidnapping, destablization 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 people who were killed by overseas Filipino workers.
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 affixed her signature on the margins of memoranda that Uriarte had brought to Malacañang. INQUIRER