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What Went Before: The Owwa fund transfer

/ 05:52 AM January 12, 2012

Former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo

In 2004, critics assailed then President and now Pampanga Representative Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo for allegedly authorizing the diversion to her presidential election campaign of some P530 million from the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (Owwa) to Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth).

They said Owwa funds, amassed from the $25 collected from each departing overseas Filipino worker (OFW), supposedly financed the PhilHealth insurance cards which then President Arroyo distributed during her campaign rallies all over the country.

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Former Solicitor General Francisco Chavez, then seeking a Senate seat under Senator Raul Roco’s Alyansa ng Pag-Asa, sought the disqualification of Arroyo for allegedly using public funds for her campaign.

Malacañang, however, explained that the cards, which bore Arroyo’s picture, were part of the President’s commitment to provide healthcare to poor Filipinos.

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In 2005, almost a year after Arroyo won the vote, then Senator Aquilino Pimentel Jr. called for her impeachment, claiming she illegally used trust funds.

Pimentel said that Owwa resources “cannot be used for any purpose other than that specified in the law that created them.”

Not a cent for evacuation

In July 2006, questions on the Owwa funds were revived when Philippine Ambassador to Lebanon Al Francis Bichara claimed that he had not received a single cent from the Owwa for the evacuation of Filipinos from war-torn Lebanon.

The Owwa transmitted $150,000 to Bichara, four days after his complaint got wide publicity in Manila, prompting the Senate decision to call an inquiry into the matter.

However, government officials snubbed the Senate inquiry by invoking Executive Order No. 464, which required administration officials to seek authorization from Arroyo first before appearing at congressional inquiries.

Addressing the media, then Health Secretary Francisco Duque III denied any irregularity in the transfer of P530 million in Owwa funds to PhilHealth.

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Duque explained that the first tranche of OFW funds—P300 million—was transferred to PhilHealth on March 16, 2005, or 10 months after the May 2004 elections. Another P230 million was transferred the following month, he said.

Plunder charges

On April 26, 2011, Chavez filed a plunder complaint against Arroyo in the Department of Justice (DOJ) in relation to the diversion of the Owwa funds.

Also named as respondents were former Executive Secretary Alberto Romulo, former PhilHealth president and CEO Duque and former Owwa Administrator Virgilio Angelo.

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.”

Chavez noted the diversion was 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.’”

On July 22, 2011, Arroyo made an appearance at the DOJ to subscribe to a 58-page affidavit countering the plunder suit filed by Chavez.

In her affidavit, Arroyo said there was nothing wrong with her 2003 decision to transfer the Medicare funds of the Owwa to PhilHealth.

She also claimed that her approval of the fund transfer was legal and merely ministerial, and that the actual transfer took place a year after the 2004 election. Inquirer Research

Source: Inquirer Archives

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TAGS: DoJ, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, Owwa, Philhealth, technical malversation
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