The scandal arising from the alleged misuse of at least P325 million in intelligence funds of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) has moved into the legal arena with the filing of a plunder, graft and malversation case against former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and former PCSO General Manager Rosario Uriarte.
Bayan Muna Representatives Teodoro Casiño and Neri Colmenares filed the complaint in the Office of the Ombudsman on Tuesday, with acting Ombudsman Orlando Casimiro himself receiving the documents and vowing to make the case a priority.
“Charity, they say, begins at home,” the two congressman said in their prefatory statement. “But for the PCSO, charity begins at Malacañang Palace.”
“Recent information from the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office, exposed in both houses of Congress, have revealed a level of corruption and abuse that puts to shame even the most heartless of thieves,” the two lawmakers said.
It was then President Arroyo who approved the allocation of huge amounts of charity funds for alleged nonexistent intelligence operations that included financing the administration’s election campaign in 2010.
Casiño and Colmenares said their complaint against Arroyo, now a representative of Pampanga, and Uriarte was not just about “stealing people’s money … but about stealing from the poor.”
“It is our mandate that we have to prioritize cases against high-ranking officials,” Casimiro told reporters.
The new PCSO board and a Senate probe have exposed alleged irregularities in the handling of the agency’s P325-million intelligence funds in the last two-and-a-half years of the Arroyo administration.
Casiño and Colmenares asked that the Office of the Ombudsman conduct lifestyle checks on Arroyo and Uriarte, monitor and freeze their accounts if necessary and sequester all documents submitted to the Commission on Audit which may be related to the supposed anomalies.
They also asked that the Office of the Ombudsman investigate other alleged anomalies in the PCSO, such as the inordinate amount of money spent for advertising.
In their complaint, the lawmakers alleged that Arroyo had granted Uriarte’s request for P325 million in intelligence funds, including the realignment of P150 million in the PCSO media budget to the intelligence fund.
They noted that Uriarte, in making the request, had not presented a PCSO board resolution allowing the realignment of the PCSO budget, or authorizing her to request for a realignment.
This supposed scheme of funneling PCSO money into the intelligence funds would also save the money from regular auditing, the lawmakers contended.
No regular auditing
“Diverting funds from the operational expense, which is subject to regular auditing, to an intelligence fund which is not subject to regular auditing, clearly exposes the intention of both Arroyo and Uriarte to disburse said funds without the benefit of regular auditing scrutiny, in violation of our laws,” they said.
The lawmakers also alleged that Arroyo and Uriarte had conspired to use the PCSO’s intelligence funds for things other than intelligence work.
They said Uriarte had admitted before the Senate blue ribbon committee that Arroyo had known that the intelligence funds would be used for the Small Town Lottery, relief operations and payment of blood money to save overseas workers, which do not fall under the category of intelligence activities.
But despite this, Arroyo still approved the realignment, the Bayan Muna lawmakers added.
Casiño and Colmenares further said Arroyo and Uriarte had failed to account for the funds. Uriarte said at the Senate hearing last week that her lone copy of her report was submitted to Arroyo.
Used for election
Casiño and Colmenares said it was very likely that the P150-million fund, which was disbursed a few months before the 2010 elections, was used in the campaign.
“This is malversation and appropriation for the gain and benefit of President Arroyo,” they said.
The Bayan Muna lawmakers also alleged that Uriarte used up almost all of the 2010 intelligence funds in the first six months of 2010 and withdrew P12.5 million 12 days before her term ended in 2010. These showed the intent to malverse the funds for personal use, they said.
The lawmakers also said that in diverting the media budget to intelligence funds and misusing these, Arroyo and Uriarte took money that could have gone to help the poor and the needy. They also put the PCSO in a bad light, according to Casiño and Colmenares.
They noted that savings from operations or any other PCSO income should go to charity funds.
The rich, greedy
“By realigning the funds, they essentially diverted money that should have been for the charity fund. Worse, they also besmirched the reputation of PCSO as an institution for the poor and the needy into an institution for the rich and the greedy,” they said.
These funds, the two lawmakers said, might have been used for political largesse, partly to retain the loyalty of public officers to the President, partisan electoral purposes and some were simply amassed as ill-gotten wealth.