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Arroyo denies P550-M rap

She appears at DoJ to answer 1 of 5 plunder cases
By: - Reporter / @JeromeAningINQ
/ 02:08 AM July 23, 2011

LADY IN WAITING. Former President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo waits at the Department of Justice in Manila on Friday to swear to the authenticity of her affidavit answering the plunder charges filed against her by former Solicitor General Frank Chavez. REUTERS

With the presidency behind her, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo on Friday made an appearance at the Department of Justice (DoJ) to subscribe to a 58-page affidavit countering the plunder suit filed by former Solicitor General Frank Chavez.

But this may not be her final appearance in the dock. The Chavez charge is only one of five plunder cases filed against the former President within the last year alone.

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Arroyo was accompanied by her lawyer Benjamin Santos when she arrived at the DoJ at around 9 a.m. The subscription procedure was conducted behind closed doors in the office of State Prosecutor Theodore Villanueva, who heads the panel conducting the preliminary investigation of Chavez’s suit.

Now a representative of Pampanga’s second district, Arroyo smiled at reporters but refused to talk about the case. She left the building about 15 minutes later.

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She missed seeing a display of support by some 80 people who showed up at the DoJ building on Padre Faura in Manila after mistakenly picketing the adjacent Supreme Court and being pointed by policemen in the right direction.

Chavez charged Arroyo with plunder following allegations that funds intended for overseas Filipino workers were used for her election campaign in 2004.

Arroyo chose not to attend the 2 p.m. hearing set by the DoJ panel of prosecutors. It was Santos who formally submitted her affidavit at the hearing proper.

Forum-shopping

In her affidavit, Arroyo said there was nothing wrong with her 2003 decision to transfer about P550 million from the Medicare funds of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (Owwa) to Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PHIC).

She accused Chavez of forum-shopping and making a forbidden pleading, adding that the Office of the Ombudsman dismissed a similar case filed by him way back in 2007.

She claimed that her approval of the fund transfer was legal and merely ministerial, and that the actual transfer of the P550 million took place a year after the 2004 election.

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“[My] act of approving the transfer of Owwa Medicare Funds to PHIC was completely aboveboard, and in accordance with, pursuant to, or merely implemented, previous laws, executive issuances and state policy. [Chavez’s] insinuations to the effect that Medicare functions and funds for OFWs are to be performed, and administered, only by Owwa, and that the transfer thereof to PHIC is suspect, are entirely baseless,” Arroyo said.

She also said that she could not be charged with plunder because the crime, as defined by law, pertained to amassing, accumulating and acquiring ill-gotten wealth through a series of overt criminal acts, and that Chavez failed to present proof that she had done so.

And neither did Chavez present proof that the transferred funds were used in her election campaign, which took place before the actual transfer of funds, she said.

Conspiracy theory

“[Chavez] should remember that conspiracy theories are, as they should remain, the staple only of fiction,” Arroyo said.

She faulted Chavez for omitting any reference to “an earlier, identical” complaint that he filed against her in 2004 and which the Ombudsman allegedly dismissed.

“[Chavez’s new complaint], even as already amended, has not added any significant change to, much less improved on, the earlier complaint, as to substance, either by way of allegations or documents in support of the complaint. It is essentially a mere replication of the earlier complaint,” Arroyo said.

And since the Ombudsman had dismissed the 2007 complaint, the DoJ had no more business conducting a preliminary investigation of the same case, she added, citing the Supreme Court case Decin v. Tayco.

Presidential immunity

Lawyer Andre de Jesus, who represented Chavez at Friday’s hearing, pointed out that while Arroyo was a respondent in the 2007 case in the Ombudsman, she was not investigated or summoned because she was then president and immune from lawsuits.

Quoting from the investigation report of the Ombudsman, De Jesus said it was merely recommended that Chavez’s complaint be “closed and terminated without prejudice to the filing or reopening of the case should the evidence warrants.”

“The case was not completely disposed much less denied by the Office of the Ombudsman. The Ombudsman clearly recognized the need for further evidentiary proceedings. It’s not accurate for anyone to say that the Office of the Ombudsman already denied or dismissed the case filed by … Chavez,” the lawyer said.

De Jesus also rejected the accusation of forum-shopping against Chavez. He said the Ombudsman took a long time investigating the case, so Chavez filed notice of withdrawing the complaint. However, he added, the Ombudsman proceeded to conduct the inquiry on its own.

The original recommendation was submitted by the investigating officer in August 2006, or more than two years after Chavez filed his complaint. Then Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez only approved the recommendation after more than a year, on Sept. 10, 2007.

De Jesus said that in order to prevent further delay in the case, Chavez would no longer file a counter-reply and would propose that only memoranda be submitted in the next hearing on Aug. 19, after which the prosecutors could proceed to resolve the case.

EO 182

The rest of Arroyo’s affidavit tackled her refutation of Chavez’s accusation that the transfer of funds was illegal.

She said that in 1995, Republic Act No. 7875 set up the National Health Insurance Program for all Filipinos, including OFWs and their dependents.

In April 1997, she said, the program’s implementer, PHIC, tried to legally take over the Medicare functions of the Owwa. She said this was approved by then Justice Secretary Teofisto Guingona Jr.

Arroyo said she cited RA 7875 among the reasons in her issuance of Executive Order No. 182 in February 2003 that provided for the transfer of the Medicare funds from the Owwa to PHIC.

She recalled that the then PHIC president, Francisco Duque III, asked then Executive Secretary Alberto Romulo for a delay in enforcing EO 182 because it was not published and stakeholders were not consulted.

EO 182 took effect after its publication in 2005. At the same time, the PHIC board also passed a resolution detailing how the funds would be used exclusively for OFW members of the Owwa.

Meanwhile, after consultations with OFWs around the world were made, the Owwa board passed a resolution approving the actual transfer in February 2005. But the actual transfer of funds took place in March and April the same year, Arroyo said.

In 2006, the state auditor reported that the transferred funds had been properly disbursed, she said.

4 other plunder cases

The other plunder cases are:

July 1, 2010—Bayan Muna Representatives Neri Colmenares and Teddy Casiño filed plunder charges against Arroyo in connection with the scuttled $329-million NBN-ZTE deal. The case was lodged in the Department of Justice and then referred to the Truth Commission, a special panel that the Supreme Court later struck down as unconstitutional.

August 2010—Danilo Lihaylihay, president of the Philippine Association of Revenue Investigators, filed a P72-million plunder case against Arroyo (now a Pampanga representative) and four others for the alleged anomalous sale of the old Iloilo airport for P1.2 billion to Megaworld Corp. in 2007.

June 28—Chavez filed another plunder case against Arroyo for allegedly using nearly P1.6 billion in fertilizer funds to bolster her presidential bid in 2004. He said the amount was not part of the P728-million fertilizer fund.

July 12—Colmenares and Casiño filed a plunder, graft and malversation case against Arroyo in the Ombudsman in connection with the alleged misuse of at least P325 million in intelligence funds of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office. Charged with Arroyo was former PCSO General Manager Rosario Uriarte

First posted 12:26 am | Saturday, July 23rd, 2011

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TAGS: Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, Government, Graft and Corruption, Justice, Politics
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