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Doubts raised on plunder complaint

05:36 AM April 28, 2011

MANILA, Philippines—Doubts on a P530-million plunder charge against former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo emerged a day after it was filed, but, already, more of the same accusations are being prepared.

Grace Tan, the new chief of the Commission on Audit (COA), said Wednesday the agency had looked into the transfer of funds belonging to overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) to a government health insurance scheme, but its 2006 report did not find it anomalous.

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The fund transfer from the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) to the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) was the basis of the plunder charge filed by former Solicitor General Frank Chavez on Tuesday in the Department of Justice.

The President has broad plenary powers, Tan pointed out, to effect the transaction.

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“The act of transferring funds per se, in itself, is not an offense. Now as to the attendant circumstances, we could not discuss it because (a case) has been filed. The issue of the money being a trust fund is the reason why the case was filed,” she said.

On the heels of the Chavez move, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima told reporters Wednesday that Arroyo was likely to face at least two more plunder charges.

De Lima said she planned to retrieve a case filed in the shelved truth commission by Bayan Muna party-list Representatives Neri Colmenares and Teodoro Casiño in connection with the scuttled $329-million NBN-ZTE deal.

“Out of courtesy, I would have to ask the records to be returned,” she said.

The NBN-ZTE case was lodged in the department on July 1, 2010, the day Arroyo’s term ended along with her presidential immunity. It was referred to the Truth Commission, but the Supreme Court later struck down the panel as unconstitutional for allegedly singling out Arroyo, now a Pampanga representative, for prosecution.

Another plunder case was brought against Arroyo last October by a private complainant, Danilo Lihaylihay. It stemmed from the alleged anomalous sale of the old Iloilo airport property in 2007.

De Lima said that once Bayan Muna’s plunder case had been retrieved, she would create a panel to conduct a preliminary investigation on the airport sale.

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Cases of Arroyo nemesis

Also on Wednesday, Sen. Panfilo Lacson told reporters that he has a trunkful of damaging documents about corruption in the Aquino administration and planned to file plunder cases against her as well.

In his complaint, Chavez alleged that the OWWA fund was used by Arroyo to buy PhilHealth cards for distribution to boost her campaign in the 2004 presidential election.

However, the COA report said that the transfer occurred after the election. It said that in March 2005, under Executive Order No. 182, OWWA’s Medicare functions were transferred to PhilHealth.

OWWA’s board of trustees authorized the transfer of P530.382 million to PhilHealth in February 2005, but the actual transfers took place in two installments in March and April. The first installment of P300 million was made on March 16, while the remaining P230.38 million was delivered on April 19, according to COA.

Earlier, in December 2004, Executive Order No. 382 was issued, directing that funds needed for the basic OFW Medicare Program for one year be released to ensure the continuity of service, according to COA. The order also provided that OWWA retain the remaining portion of the health insurance fund for a supplemental health package for OFWs.

The 2006 COA did not make any observation or recommendation with regard to the transfers but centered on the recovery of investments, receivables and unliquidated cash advances, among others.

Duque’s defense

In an interview on Radyo Inquirer, former PhilHealth president Francisco Duque Wednesday reiterated what he had said when the card controversy first broke out in 2004, that two checks totaling P530 million from OWWA were transferred to PhilHealth about a year after the election.

Duque said Arroyo could not have used the money for her election bid. “I still have copies of the checks,” Duque told Radyo Inquirer.

He said the controversial PhilHealth cards released before the 2004 elections were funded by the national government and the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO). Duque said PCSO released P3 billion for the cards which had Arroyo’s picture.

Duque also said he has documents to show that overseas workers and their dependents benefited from the transfer of OWWA funds to PhilHealth, He said the database of OWWA Medicare was also used in determining the PhilHealth beneficiaries.

All lies

Chavez’s complaint named Arroyo, Duque, former Executive Secretary Alberto Romulo and former OWWA administrator Virgilio Angelo as respondents in the plunder case.

Reacting to Duque’s claims, Chavez told Radyo Inquirer: “If he said these were not true, then he is either lying or he is a sociopath.”

“As early as 20 November 2002, Secretary Duque wrote to GMA. He proposed the transfer of OFW’s funds to PhilHealth because this would have a significant bearing on the 2004 elections,” Chavez said in Filipino.

“And how can he deny the fact that PhilHealth cards with GMA’s picture were distributed during the 2004 elections?” Chavez said. With reports from Gil C. Cabacungan Jr., Christine O. Avendaño and Dona Dominguez, Radyo Inquirer

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