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Malversation rap vs Philippine ex-president dismissed
Publication Date : 25-10-2012
The Office of the Ombudsman has dismissed for lack of evidence charges against former Philippine President Gloria Arroyo in connection with the alleged diversion of more than 500 million pesos (US$12 million) meant for overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) to her election campaign in 2004.
A 47-page memorandum and an 11-page supplemental memorandum issued by a panel of investigators and approved by Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales found no sufficient evidence against Arroyo, now a Pampanga representative, and 11 other officials of her administration.
The two charges of technical malversation allegedly using funds of the Overseas Workers’ Welfare Administration (Owwa) were recommended by the Department of Justice (DOJ).
The first charge scratched involved 539,382,446 pesos allegedly transferred from the Owwa Medical Fund to Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PHIC) and purportedly used in Arroyo’s 2004 presidential campaign.
Respondents, aside from Arroyo, were then PHIC president and CEO Francisco Duque III, former Executive Secretary Alberto Romulo, former Owwa board chair Patricia Sto. Tomas and board members Virgilio Angelo, Manuel Imson, Rosalinda Baldoz, Mina Figueroa, Caroline Rogge, Victorino Balais, Gregorio Oca and Virginia Pasalo.
The second charge concerned the alleged irregular transfer of Owwa funds involving $293,500, which at the current exchange rate of 41.3 pesos to a dollar totals 12.1 million pesos, and another 5 million pesos all for various acquisitions and activities of Philippine posts abroad.
The memo said there was no evidence to establish that the accused misused or misappropriated the funds intended for OFWs and that the amounts actually reached intended beneficiaries.
The 65-year-old Arroyo, now a Pampanga representative, is also facing charges of election sabotage and plunder and is on hospital arrest. She is suffering from a rare neck ailment.
Purely harassment suits
“The dismissal of the Owwa case is clear proof that the cases filed by P-Noy against GMA have no leg of evidence to stand on and are purely harassment suits intended for political expediency and motivated by hatred and vindictiveness,” said Arroyo’s lawyer Raul Lambino.
House Minority Leader Danilo Suarez said: “Former President Arroyo has chosen to put her faith in the courts. And so far, we are glad to report that the legal challenges the administration and its allies have been hurling at her are one by one being thrown out of the courts.”
Each Filipino going overseas to work is asked to pay the government $25 upon departure for insurance and healthcare, loan guarantee fund, education and training, social services and family welfare assistance and worker assistance and on-site services. There is an estimated 8 million Filipinos working overseas.
The 47-page memo was dated Feb 10, 2012, but signed by Morales on June 14, 2012, while the supplemental memo was dated Sept 25, 2012, and approved by Morales on Oct 12, 2012.
In the supplemental memorandum, the Ombudsman also dismissed the charges with respect to the questioned transfer of Owwa funds involving $293,500 and another 5 million pesos for various acquisitions and activities of Philippine posts abroad.
Chavez charge dismissed
The charges against Arroyo and the other respondents stemmed from the complaints for plunder, graft and corruption, malversation of public funds, qualified theft and violations of the Omnibus Election Code and the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards filed by former Solicitor General Francisco Chavez and the leftist group Migrante in the DOJ.
Chavez and company alleged that Arroyo and her former officials had “systematically” orchestrated the diversion and misuse of the 540-million peso Owwa fund for “questionable” acquisitions and electioneering in 2004.
In the decision, the Ombudsman said the questioned fund transfer to PHIC was in accordance with Republic Act No. 7875 (Philhealth Law) as confirmed by DOJ Opinion No. 25 signed by then Justice Secretary Teofisto Guingona Jr.
The Ombudsman rejected allegations that Arroyo’s desire to provide insurance to 8 million indigents at the end of 2003 was meant to improve her winning chances in the 2004 presidential election.
Based on the evidence, the Ombudsman said the funds were released in 2005 or a year after the election.
“Moreover, the truth that the Owwa Medicare funds were released only in 2005, or after the election in 2004, and only subsequent to the issuance by the Owwa board of a resolution effecting the transfer of the funds … only prove that respondents Duque, Arroyo and the Owwa board never intended that the Owwa Medical funds be diverted for purposes other than to benefit the Filipino overseas contract workers,” the memo stated.
Aid to war victims
The Ombudsman also said that, in the Feb 28, 2006, and March 15, 2007, state auditor’s reports, the Commission on Audit (COA) confirmed that such funds were transferred to the PHIC and were used to pay for the benefits of the OFWs.
The Ombudsman said that it was legal for the president to approve the request and release of $293,500 for Philippine posts since it was part of the $1-million contingency fund set up by the office for the welfare of OFWs caught in the Middle East crisis in 2003.
Arroyo, acting on a request sent by then Foreign Secretary Blas Ople, approved the release of the said amount for the use of labour offices in the Middle East through her marginal note “ok charge to Owwa” on the request letter.
The Owwa is empowered to set up a contingency fund to respond to OFW concerns without delay in the event of conflicts in their host countries.
The COA attested that the amount was used in the relief and repatriation of Filipinos in Kuwait, Lebanon, Jordan, Oman, Bahrain, Egypt and Iran caught in the US-Iraq conflict in 2003. The COA also said the amount had been properly liquidated.
On the 5-million peso request by Ople from the President’s Contingency Fund as operating expenses of the Task Force for the Coordination of Philippine Humanitarian Assistance to Iraq, the Ombudsman said no such amount was disbursed because the request was declined by the Owwa board of trustees. The same was confirmed by the COA.
“With the above findings of the COA, there is no cogent reason to proceed with the investigation of the subject transactions. Hence, the dismissal of the charges is in order,” the Ombudsman said.