Complaint full of holes, won’t stand in court, say defenders of GMA
MANILA — Now, it’s former President and current Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo who is facing plunder charges before the Department of Justice.
Former Solicitor General Francisco Chavez filed before the DoJ on Tuesday a criminal complaint for plunder against the former President, two of her former Cabinet officials and the chief of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) for their alleged diversion of more than P500 million funds supposedly intended for the medical benefits of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs). It is actually the second complaint filed against the former president, the first being the controversial ZTE-NBN deal filed last July.
At press time, there was no comment from Congresswoman Arroyo who is reportedly abroad on speaking engagements. Her spokesperson Elena Bautista Horn said they have yet to receive and study the complaint.
But the President’s allies led by Rep. Danilo Suarez of Quezon, who is the senior deputy minority leader in the House of Representatives, stressed there was no plunder at all because the OWWA medical aid money never went to a private person or group but was merely transferred to the Phiippine Health Insurance Corp., another government agency.
The OWWA funds were put to better use which is to enhance the medical benefits of overseas workers and included their dependents – wife, husband and children – among the beneficiaries, he said.
Civil Service Chairman Francisco Duque III, former health secretary and Philhealth president and one of those charged with plunder, pointed out that it is the lawful mandate of Philhealth to cover all Filipinos – including overseas workers – with medical insurance and the transfer of the OWWA medical fund to Philhealth was in compliance of that mandate.
Duque said that he is confident that Chavez will not be able to prove that plunder was committed in an “agency to agency” transfer of funds, which was also backed by an executive order and the Republic Act 7875 or the National health Insurance Act, which institutes a National Health Insurance Program for all Filipinos.
Then President Arroyo issued Executive Order 182 in 2003 ordering the transfer of medicare funds from OWWA, the Government Security Insurance System and the Social Security System to PhilHealth.
Duque explained that the EO, which was created through his recommendation, creates a unified health care service system for all Filipinos.
“I’m as curious as you are because this is government to government. If you look objectively at the wisdom of the transfer, it has made great strides in terms of improving benefits for the OFWs and [creating] a more credible system,” the former health secretary said.
He added that through the unified health care system, the past administration was able to save millions of government funds by getting rid of fraudulent health care claims, particularly in GSIS and SSS.
“At that time 33 percent ang fraudulent cases, which means for every P1 billion, P333 million ang fraudulent, [which goes] to ghost patients. Sa SSS ganoon din,” Duque said.
Suarez said the plunder complaint was full of holes and would not stand in court, adding that it was part of efforts by the Aquino administration to rid the bureaucracy of Arroyo appointees as well as divert the attention of Filipinos from various crises besetting the country.
“I couldn’t see how distributing PhilHealth cards can be considered as plunder,” Suarez said. “As Malacañang continues to bungle from one crisis to another, like the rising prices of food and oil, the attention of the people is diverted to antics like these,” he added.
He said that plunder is committed when a government official takes public funds amounting to at least P50 million for private purposes.
“Where is the plunder there? There is no connection from public to private (funds),” Suarez said.
Aside from Mrs. Arroyo, also charged in a 23-page complaint filed by Chavez were former Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Secretary and erstwhile Executive Secretary Alberto Romulo, and former OWWA Administrator Virgilio Angelo.
Chavez said he may also add in the complaint Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz, an Aquino Cabinet member, and former Labor Secretary and CSC chairperson Patricia Sto. Tomas who were members of the OWWA board at the time the transfer of funds were allegedly made.
They were also charged with qualified theft, violation of the Omnibus Election Code and Republic Act No. 6713, otherwise known as the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees, and R.A. 3019, or the Anti-Graft Law.
In his complaint, Chavez said that Mrs. Arroyo approved the diversion of some P533,082,446 OWWA Medicare Fund to the PHIC as recommended by Duque.
Duque himself drafted the executive order which was approved by Mrs. Arroyo.
Grace Tan, the new chairperson of the Commission on Audit (COA), disclosed that COA had looked into the transfer of fund but its 2006 report did not find it anomalous.
The President has broad plenary powers to effect the transaction, Tan said of the transfer of funds from OWWA to Philhealth.
The purpose of the transfer, according to the EO, “will have a significant bearing on 2004 elections and on the President’s desire to provide health insurance to 8-million indigents by the end of 2003.”
“Anyone, of course, is at liberty to stretch the term ‘purpose’ to its ridiculous extremes. But the proposed transfer of hundreds of millions (of pesos) from the OWWA Medicare Fund to the PHIC was redundant if not altogether unnecessary,” the complainant said.
“Clearly, then, respondents are guilty of plunder through the first predicate crime, as the diversion of the said amount had absolutely nothing to do with the intended purposes of the OWWA fund,” Chavez said.
Likewise, Chavez said that Mrs. Arroyo also approved the diversion of some US$ 293,500 or roughly P16.5 million from OWWA funds to finance preparatory activities such as stockpiling and purchase of vehicles for several posts in Lebanon, Jordan, Oman, Bahrain, Egypt and Iran in support of the United States-led war in Iraq.
Quoting the 1987 Philippine Constitution, Chavez pointed out that “all money collected on any tax levied for a special purpose shall be treated as a special fund and paid out for such purpose only.”
Chavez stressed that if the purpose for which a special fund was created has been fulfilled or abandoned, the balance, if any, shall be transferred to the general funds of the government.
In this case, Chavez said that the OWWA fund, by its very nature and express statutory edicts, “is meant for the direct and exclusive benefit of OFWs. Thus…approving said requests for disbursements to be drawn from the OWWA fund, respondents have clearly violated the constitution.”