MANILA, Philippines?For allegedly dipping her fingers into a cookie jar reserved for overseas Filipino workers, former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo so disgusted at least three Malacañang insiders that they helped put together plunder charges that she is now facing.
Former Solicitor General Frank Chavez Tuesday filed a 23-page complaint claiming that Arroyo, now a Pampanga representative, misused more than P550 million from the Overseas Workers? Welfare Administration (OWWA) from March 2003 to February 2004.
?This was all very well-orchestrated because in all the recommendations made by the respondents, there was always the handwritten notation made by Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo ?OK, charge to OWWA funds.? But the OWWA funds are funds held in trust by the government and they cannot dip their fingers into the cookie jar that exclusively belongs to the overseas Filipino workers,? Chavez told reporters.
Chavez said three mid-level officials photocopied the documents for him, which was why all these he had submitted as bases for his plunder complaint bear Malacañang bar codes.
Chavez?s sources said they pitied the OFWs whose funds were being misused. He said this was in February 2004 before the presidential elections.
He said the original documents could be ordered produced in court and his sources, some of whom remained in government, need not come out in the open. The justice department can verify the documents? authenticity through the bar codes.
?They are kind-hearted, highly conscienticized Filipinos who could no longer stomach the quagmire of corruption spewed by Malacañang,? he said.
Days of reckoning
?Today is one of those days of reckoning. Some people think that they can run but they cannot hide. The long arm of the law will catch up with them in the fullness of time,? Chavez told reporters before filing the complaint in the Department of Justice.
Chavez also named as respondents former Executive Secretary Alberto Romulo, former Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) president and chief executive officer Francisco Duque III and former OWWA administrator Virgilio Angelo.
It was the second suit brought against Arroyo this month.
On April 4, a P15-million civil suit was lodged against her and 10 others for illegal arrest and torture in connection with the detention of the so-called ?Morong 43? suspected communist guerrillas.
Malacañang said it was not surprised by Chavez?s move.
?Since she?s no longer president, she no longer has immunity,? said President Aquino?s spokesperson Edwin Lacierda.
Not so subtle order
Elena Bautista-Horn, Arroyo?s spokesperson, declined to comment, saying she had not seen a copy of the complaint.
Arroyo?s ally, Quezon Rep. Danilo Suarez, said the Chavez action was just a response to Mr. Aquino?s ?not so subtle? order to go after the former President, her family and political allies.
?He is just responding to the signal sent by President Aquino. Others can follow to put the pressure on the former President and this is unfortunate because he is just diverting the public?s attention away from the country?s pressing problems,? said Suarez.
Suarez said he wanted to know what the administration hoped to achieve by digging up old files or evidence against Arroyo and whether it would help solve the rising cost of oil and other goods and services.
In his complaint, Chavez said the OWWA funds were diverted not only to boost Arroyo?s 2004 presidential bid, but also to finance ?questionable acquisitions? by several Philippine diplomatic posts in the Middle East and the humanitarian assistance in Iraq??all of which do not contribute and could never have contributed, to the direct and exclusive benefit of the Filipino overseas workers.?
Additional criminal charges
Chavez also accused Arroyo et al. of malversation and illegal use of public funds, qualified theft, and violations of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for public officials and employees, and a provision in the Constitution that says tax levied for a special purpose ?shall be treated as a special fund and paid out for such purpose only.?
The plundered funds allegedly totaled P554.8 million, including P530.38 million from the OWWA Medicare Fund transferred to PhilHealth for her 2004 presidential election.
Each OFW pays $25 to OWWA on leaving the country. In March, the Palace budget office said the OWWA fund had totaled P13 billion, but the amount had been depleted because of the repatriation of Filipinos from besieged countries in the Middle East and Northern Africa.
Chavez quotes a Nov. 20, 2002, letter of Duque to Arroyo, on the turnover of OWWA funds to PhilHealth: ?The proposed transfer will have a significant bearing on 2004 elections and on the President?s desire to provide health insurance to 8 million indigents by the end of 2003.?
Chavez argued that the OWWA fund already provides for insurance coverage, among others, to the OFWs who have contributed to the fund, and thus the transfer to PhilHealth was ?unnecessary.?
US invasion of Iraq
He said the rest of the supposed plundered amount was used for the preparations of Philippine posts in the Middle East when the United States invaded Iraq, then led by the dictator Saddam Hussein, in March 2003.
According to Chavez, Romulo, in various memos to Angelo, sought the release of $293,500 or P16.5 million for the purchase of vehicles and ?stockpiling? of the Philippine posts in Lebanon, Jordan, Oman, Bahrain, Egypt and Iraq as well as the release of P5 million for the operating expenses of the task force for humanitarian assistance in Iraq.
Chavez said that in a July 2003 memorandum, Angelo shelved OWWA?s General Financial Assistance Program which ?stopped the processing? as well as the acceptance of claims of OFWs, which amounted to P16.5 million.
Chavez said $53,000 or P2.9 million was also taken from the Philippine Overseas Employment Agency/OWWA that comprised part of the $321,500 needed by the Philippine post in Kuwait to prepare when the United States invades Iraq.
Chavez said he filed his complaint in the justice department because nothing came out of one earlier filed in the Office of the Ombudsman.