GMA faces plunder raps over OWWA fund misuse

Published by rudy Date posted on April 27, 2011

MANILA, Philippines –  Former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and three of her former officials were charged with plunder and other offenses before the Department of Justice (DOJ) yesterday.

Arroyo’s spokesman declined to comment until she has seen the complaint.

Ma. Elena Bautista-Horn said she is still trying to secure a copy of the complaint.

On the other hand, House of Representatives Senior Deputy Minority Leader Danny Suarez said many overseas Filipino workers or their families benefited from Arroyo’s PhilHealth program.

Arroyo is abroad on a series of speaking engagements on developing Asian and Latin American nations.

Former solicitor general Francisco Chavez also accused Arroyo, her former executive secretary Alberto Romulo, Civil Service Commission (CSC) Chairman Francisco Duque III and former administrator Virgilio Angelo of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) of qualified theft, graft and corruption, and violations of the Constitution, Revised Penal Code and the Omnibus Election Code.

Arroyo was accused of diverting about P530 million in OWWA funds to her 2004 presidential campaign.

“Respondent GMA, in conspiracy with, and with the indispensable complicity of, her co-respondents herein, purposely and systematically orchestrated the diversion and/or misuse of the OWWA fund, financing questionable acquisitions by several Philippine diplomatic posts in the Middle East, the humanitarian assistance to Iraq, and re-election bid of respondent GMA – all of which do not contribute, and could never have contributed, to the direct and exclusive benefit of the Filipino overseas workers,” read the complaint.

Chavez submitted as evidence Executive Order 182 issued by Arroyo on Feb.14, 2003 transferring P530,382,446 in OWWA-Medicare funds to the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) then headed by Duque.

Chavez said Arroyo had distributed millions of health cards from PhilHealth before the 2004 presidential elections.

He also submitted a memorandum signed by Romulo on March 12, 2003 seeking the release of $293,500 for “preparatory activities of Philippine post in Kuwait and the purchase of vehicles and stockpiling of

posts in Lebanon, Jordan, Oman, Bahrain, Egypt and Iran – in support of the US-led war in Iraq.”

The document had a marginal note from Arroyo which read, “OK charge to OWWA.”

It also showed that another $53,000 had already been taken from OWWA.

Chavez said four months after, Angelo issued a memorandum discontinuing the general financial assistance program of OWWA and stopped processing claims of overseas Filipino workers under the P16,510,000 program.

The amount roughly corresponded to the amount sought by Romulo, he added.

Chavez said in May 2003, Romulo again requested for P5 million supposedly for the funding of “task force for the coordination of

Philippine humanitarian assistance to Iraq.”

Arroyo again referred this to OWWA funds, he added.

Those funds from OWWA were used in projects “which had absolutely no direct and exclusive benefit to OFWs,” Chavez said.

Joining Chavez in the complaint were Migrante International, and whistleblowers Sandra Cam, Jose Barredo and Melchor Magdamo.

The DOJ will determine whether the evidence is enough to indict Arroyo, Romulo, Duque and Angelo.

Duque: Baseless allegations

Duque, who also served as health secretary during the Arroyo administration, has dubbed the plunder case filed against him by Chavez as baseless allegations.

“The truth is on our side,” he told The STAR. “We have nothing to hide.”

Duque said Chavez has no evidence to show that OWWA—Medicare funds were misused when he was president of PhilHealth during the Arroyo administration.

The transfer of P530 million to PhilHealth was pursuant to Republic Act 7875, which states that the government should only have one insurance system, he added.

Duque said he has copies of OWWA-Medicare checks that would show that the transfers happened on March 16, 2005 (P300 million) and April 15, 2005 (P230 million).

“This was almost a year after the 2004 elections,” he said.

Duque said Chavez has no basis no basis to claim that the money was used for Arroyo’s presidential campaign.

“The copies of the checks are with us and in the name of PhilHealth,” he said.

“PhilHealth is open to showing you the documents where the money was deposited.”

Duque said a Senate investigation conducted in 2005 did not prosper because PhilHealth was able to show that nothing was irregular in the transfer of funds.

“I do not know the motive of those who filed the complaint but insofar as we are concerned, we have been cleared and we have the evidence with us,” he said.

Duque said as CSC chairman, he is a constitutional official who can only be removed through impeachment.

Therefore the plunder charge against him before the Department of Justice should be dismissed, he added.

He is willing to answer the allegations hurled against him as former PhilHealth president, Duque said.

OWWA ready to present records

OWWA is ready to present its records in the plunder case against Arroyo.

Administrator Carmelita Dimzon said all OWWA records are intact for scrutiny.

“The records are all here and we can present it when required, we cannot do otherwise” she said.

She can also present the OWWA board resolution approving the release of funds, she added.

However, Dimzon said, the alleged transfer of some P530 million from OWWA to PhilHealth was apparently meant to provide insurance for OFWs.

“If the case (against Arroyo) is about the P530 million transfer of funds, they are probably referring to the health programs for OWWA members,” she said.

“There was an executive order before to provide PhilHealth coverage for all Filipinos, including OFWs so that is why funds were transferred to PhilHealth.” -Edu Punay (The Philippine Star) with Michael Punongbayan, Paolo Romero, Mayen Jaymalin

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