It’s raining plunder suits for former President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
Yet another case was filed against Arroyo on Tuesday at the Office of the Ombudsman over the alleged misuse of P325 million in intelligence funds of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) during her term.
Also named in the complaint for plunder, malversation of public funds and violation of the antigraft law were former Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita, former Commission on Audit (COA) Chair Reynaldo Villar, former PCSO General Manager Rosario Uriarte and former PCSO Directors Sergio Valencia, Jose Taruc, Raymundo Roquero, Ma. Fatima Valdes and Manuel Morato.
This is the sixth plunder case filed against Arroyo and the first following President Aquino’s appointment of a new Ombudsman, former Supreme Court Justice Conchita Carpio-Morales.
But it is the second plunder case stemming from the controversy over the alleged misuse of the PCSO intelligence funds.
“This is the first test we are submitting to the Ombudsman,” said Jaime Regalario of the group that calls itself Kilusang Makabayang Ekonomiya.
Regalario, retired Brig. Gen. Danilo Lim and Risa Hontiveros of the party-list group Akbayan are the complainants in the case. They were accompanied by former Special Prosecutor Dennis Villa-Ignacio and lawyer Lorna Kapunan in filing the complaint.
The complainants told reporters that they were confident of the strength of the case because they had gathered documentary evidence to fill a suitcase.
In the complaint, Lim, Regalario and Hontiveros said the respondents did not meet the requirements for the release or disbursement of intelligence funds except for the one requiring the approval of the President.
The other requirements were that a provision should be included in the budget for intelligence funds; the funds should be used for confidential activities; 80 percent of the funds should be used for field operations; and quarterly reports should be submitted to the Senate President, House Speaker and COA chair.
The complainants said all these requirements were not met.
They said Uriarte would make a “template” request for intelligence funds, which Arroyo or Ermita would approve automatically.
The complainants also said the intelligence funds were given through checks issued in favor of Uriarte.
Uriarte was thus made the proponent and disbursing officer of the money by the PCSO board of directors—a violation of a COA circular, according to the complainants.
They said Uriarte violated the procedure on liquidation and audit of intelligence funds because there was no monthly or periodic liquidation of cash advances, and no vouchers and supporting papers were forwarded to the COA.
They also said Uriarte implicitly admitted to not submitting the required reports and other documents when she said at the recent Senate inquiry into the issue that she had transmitted the reports and documents pertaining to the PCSO intelligence funds to then President Arroyo.
The complainants cited data from Sen. Franklin Drilon, who said the PCSO intelligence funds in 2009, amounting to P116.4 million, were spent against bomb threats, kidnapping, destabilization and terrorism, which were irrelevant to the agency’s mandate and functions.
They said Uriarte also admitted to using the intelligence funds for blood money for the families of persons killed by overseas Filipino workers and for relief operations for victims of natural disasters.
But the complainants said Uriarte did not explain where the rest of the intelligence funds went, and merely said Arroyo knew what was to be done with the money.
They said it could be concluded that the unaccounted funds were illegally amassed by the respondents because the latter were the only persons in control of and responsible for the money.
In including COA Chair Villar as respondent, the complainants said he did not issue any credit advice to prohibit the further drawing of cash advances on the PCSO funds despite the absence of liquidation reports when he assumed office.
They said Villar did not issue any notice despite reports from his subordinates that the funds were utilized in the months before the 2010 elections.
Quality of evidence
Mr. Aquino’s allies in the House of Representatives on Tuesday said the conviction of Arroyo or any other government official charged with a criminal case would depend not only on Ombudsman Morales but also on the quality of evidence and prosecutors handling the case.
“The new Ombudsman has a reputation for uprightness, quick action and so forth, so we expect she will [act with dispatch in disposing of cases brought to her office],” Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. said at a press briefing.
In another press conference, Deputy Speaker Lorenzo Tañada III said the target of the administration’s anticorruption campaign was not just Arroyo but also other officials who had raided government coffers.
Tañada also clarified that Morales’ appointment as Ombudsman was no guarantee that Arroyo and others charged would be convicted.
“I don’t think the President has any specific order to go after GMA (Arroyo),” Tañada said of Mr. Aquino’s State of the Nation Address on Monday. “What the President mentioned was that [Morales] should do her job based on the evidence presented.”
The lawmaker added: “She (Morales) is there to evaluate the evidence. Now it’s the duty of the special prosecutors to prove beyond reasonable doubt that indeed anyone who has committed graft and corruption is guilty.”
Deputy Majority Leader Federico Romero Quimbo said the President wanted to make sure that the evidence against any government official charged would stand the test of legal procedure by appointing a person like Morales.
Quimbo said Mr. Aquino did not categorically say in his State of the Nation Address that Arroyo was behind all the corruption during her administration, but that he wanted to make sure that government people would think twice before engaging in corrupt acts because in her work, Morales had shown probity, integrity and independence.
Dasmariñas City Rep. Elpidio Barzaga Jr. said getting a conviction for Arroyo should not be a barometer of Morales’ performance as Ombudsman.
“If the case is not really winnable, we can’t win the case, in the same manner that if there is no evidence to establish probable cause, I do not think the Ombudsman would file a case,” Barzaga said. With a report from Cynthia D. Balana