Gloria Arroyo faces another plunder rap over PCSO intel funds
The party-list group, Bayan Muna, on Monday said it would file with the Office of the Ombudsman this week plunder charges against former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo for allegedly looting the P325-million intelligence fund of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO).
It will not be the first plunder case against Arroyo, now a Pampanga representative.
Arroyo on Monday asked the Department of Justice (DoJ) to give her until next week to file her answer to the P550-million plunder complaint filed against her by former Solicitor General Francisco Chavez over an alleged misuse of overseas Filipino workers’ funds.
Bayan Muna Rep. Teodoro Casiño said then President Arroyo had accumulated ill-gotten wealth from the diversion of P325 million in PCSO intelligence funds in the last two-and-a-half years of her administration to what many perceive as non-existent spy missions against “jueteng” operators.
Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares said the charges would be based on the intent of both Arroyo and former PCSO General Manager Rosario Uriarte “to realign the funds to bypass restrictive procedures for the release and disbursement of funds, and worse, to avoid the accounting and liquidation procedures of the Commission on Audit.”
Casiño said Arroyo would be charged along with Uriarte, who admitted to getting Arroyo’s personal “OK” in approving the increase in the intel funds.
“While some legal experts consider the use of PCSO intel funds to nonintel operations as malversation of government funds (which is also a serious crime which carries a lifetime imprisonment), we want the Ombudsman to look deeper and discover that Arroyo had amassed these funds for herself,” Casiño said.
Under Republic Act No. 7080, or an Act Defining the Crime of Plunder, any public officer who, by himself or in connivance with members of his family, relatives by affinity or consanguinity, business associates, subordinates or other persons, amasses, accumulates or acquires ill-gotten wealth of over P50 million through a combination or series of overt criminal acts shall be punished by reclusion perpetua.
“While Uriarte may seem just an errand girl, she is still liable to plunder charges. She was used by Gloria to rob the Filipino people of their money,” Casiño said.
Casiño said Uriarte practically implicated Arroyo when she admitted that Arroyo not only knew about the diversion but also had custody of her liquidation report.
“If Presidemt Arroyo was not a conspirator, she should have ordered the investigation of the PCSO and Uriarte for the diversion of millions of intelligence funds to ‘blood-money’ payments and other items as stated in the liquidation report,” said Casiño.
Colmenares said that Uriarte’s testimony in the Senate practically last week gave investigators the “criminal elements of malversation on a silver platter.”
At the DoJ, Arroyo’s former Cabinet secretaries—Francisco Duque III and Patricia Sto. Tomas—attended the preliminary investigation and submitted their own counteraffidavits before the panel of state prosecutors tasked with determining whether there was enough evidence to charge them with plunder.
“This is a silly charge and this is part of something… I don’t know who concocted (this) but definitely (it’s) a waste of people’s money,” Sto. Tomas, Arroyo’s feisty former labor secretary, told reporters before the hearing began.
Arroyo’s lawyer, Benjamin Santos, gave the assurance that his client had “no intention to delay the proceedings” in asking for an extension of the deadline set yesterday to file her counteraffidavit.
Santos asked prosecutors if Arroyo could be given “on or before July 23” to submit and subscribe her counteraffidavit since she was scheduled to arrive this week from abroad.
“We are ready with our counteraffidavit and we have the supporting counter documents. It’s all a matter of signing it (before the panel). As soon as she arrives, we will give her a couple of days to recover from jet lag, we will have them sign the documents and she will be swearing to (her) counter affidavit. We ask for the indulgence of panel,” Santos said.
Chavez was also unable to attend Monday’s hearing but his associate “vehemently objected” to Santos’ motion.
Lawyer Andre de Jesus told reporters that Arroyo’s move for another extension showed “either a lack of respect to the proceedings before the DoJ panel or (she) might just be trivializing the proceedings.”
No more extensions
The three-man panel headed by Senior Assistant State Prosecutor Theodore Villanueva gave Arroyo until July 22 to submit her counteraffidavit.
“There will be no more extensions… Or (the complaint) will be deemed submitted for resolution,” said Senior Assistant State Prosecutor Lilian Doris Alejo.
Also named as respondents in the plunder case were former Foreign Secretary Alberto Romulo, former Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (Owwa) chief Virgilio Angelo, Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz, and other Owwa board of trustees.
Chavez accused Arroyo et al. of allegedly misusing P550 million belonging to the Owwa Medicare Fund from 2003 to 2004.
They are also facing a complaint for qualified theft, violation of the Omnibus Election Code, and Republic Act No. 6713 (Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees) and RA 3019 or the antigraft law.
Both Duque and Sto. Tomas insisted that the use of the funds from Owwa in 2005 was aboveboard.
Duque was asked if he thought the Aquino administration was going on a witch-hunt to make its predecessor accountable to alleged massive corruption.
“It’s hard to second guess anybody’s motive or intention but we are here to present our side or debunk or to refute all the allegations hurled against us. This is part of due process and everything that we do is based on the rule of law. Everything that we did had a clear basis,” Duque replied.
Duque was included in Chavez’s complaint as the then chief of Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PHIC).
In his counteraffidavit, Duque said that money from the Owwa Medicare Fund was transferred to the PHIC in accordance with law and was used “specifically, exclusively, and for the benefit of overseas Filipino workers.”
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