Plunder vs Arroyo for ‘misuse’ of sweepstakes funds endorsed-A A +A
Wednesday, January 25, 2012
MANILA – Senator Teofisto Guingona III recommended plunder charges against former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo for her involvement in the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office’s (PCSO) spending of its discretionary funds.
Guingona endorsed for adoption on Tuesday the Senate Blue Ribbon committee’s report on its probe on how the sweepstakes funds were misused during the Arroyo administration.
The committee cleared bishops to whom the PCSO donated vehicles, but found reason to urge charges against Arroyo and PCSO officials.
Guingona said the vehicles were used for public assistance programs and not for the personal use of Church leaders. Those vehicles were returned during the hearings, with the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines saying they were only held in trust by the priests.
Guingona also recommended plunder charges against former PCSO general manager Rosario Uriarte, who disclosed in Senate hearings last year that intelligence funds granted to the PCSO were used for other purposes.
“While they were public officers, Arroyo and Uriarte teamed up to rob this nation of at least P244.5 million. The then-President Arroyo made mere marginal notes and caused the release of millions of pesos to her partner, Mrs. Uriarte, who was in (charge of) the disbursement, use, and liquidation of excessive amounts of intelligence funds,” the lawmaker said.
Uriarte earlier said the intelligence funds were meant to strengthen the Small Town Lottery (STL). The committee noted, however, that the money was used “to address terrorism, bomb threats, and bilateral security relations.”
During the hearings, Audit Commissioner Heidi Mendoza said around P116.3 million in intelligence funds were used in 2009, most of which was liquidated under “bomb threat, kidnapping, destabilization, and terrorism.”
She said the PCSO failed to liquidate around P54.5 million in 2007 because “there are no documents to liquidate.”
Uriarte said the PCSO's data center and some of its lottery centers had received bomb threats. She said arrests had been made but could not give details when pressed.
But Guingona said the committee strongly believes there is probable cause that these funds were illegally diverted into the pockets of Arroyo.
He added that Arroyo and Uriarte may also be charged with technical malversation for using intelligence funds for "blood money" or money to pay off victims of Filipinos sentenced to death in Kuwait.
The committee, meanwhile, has recommended stricter guidelines on PCSO spending; funds should go only to various national programs, which are relevant to the mandate of the agency, Guingona said.
Shares in PCSO revenue to local governments and lawmakers should also be regulated, the committee said, and should require proper liquidation.
Shares to the Philippine National Police should be stopped since its mandate does not coincide with that of the PCSO.
During the hearings, PCSO general manager Ferdinand Rojas II said local governments and police units in areas where the STL operated were entitled to a 2.5 percent of revenues. But the STL has been discontinued.
The committee has also recommended new guidelines for the Audit commission to check intelligence spending.
Among these are a requirement to submit in classified, sealed envelopes vouchers and receipts on specific spending of intelligence funds and a sealed copy of the proposals or requests that led to the spending. All these should be made accessible "for lawful purposes."
Former PCSO chairman Manuel Morato may also face charges of violating election law. A video of Morato on an episode of "Dial M," a show that was paid for by the PCSO and that he hosted, was shown at the hearings.
The video had Morato endorsing former Defense secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr., administration bet for the 2010 Presidential election, and criticizing opposition candidates, including Senators Guingona and Francis Escudero.
"This is a form of electioneering or partisan political activity aggravated by the blatant use of public funds, an act that is punishable under section 79(b) of the Election Code," Guingona said.
Guingona added that he had not participated in drafting that part of the report because Morato’s allegations involved an assertion against him. (Jonathan de Santos/Sunnex)