Arroyo, 9 others charged with plunder-A A +A
Tuesday, July 17, 2012
MANILA — Philippine prosecutors filed a non-bailable corruption charge Monday against former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, which she said was aimed at ensuring she remains in detention as she fights to be released on bail in a separate vote-tampering case.
Arroyo’s camp described the filing of new plunder case against her as another "dark day for the rule of law."
The Office of the Ombudsman filed with Sandiganbayan a P365-million ($8.7 million) plunder suit against Arroyo and nine other former officials of Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) and the Commission on Audit (COA) for alleged misuse of PCSO's Confidential/Intelligence Funds (CIF).
The case stemmed from two separate complaints – one filed by Jaime Regalario, Risa Hontiveros-Baraquel and Danilo Lim on July 25, 2011 for plunder, malversation and violation of Republic Act 3019, or the "Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act"; and another complaint dated November 29, 2011, filed by the PCSO itself represented by Eduardo Araullo, for plunder and violation of RA 3019 -- for the respondents' acts of purportedly amassing millions of pesos by diverting funds sourced from the CIF during the latter years of the Arroyo administration.
Arroyo is now under hospital arrest at the Veterans Memorial Medical Center in Quezon City for electoral sabotage charges, in connection with the 2007 midterm polls.
In a statement made by her lawyer, Anacleto Diaz, Arroyo's camp finds the timing of the plunder complaint suspicious.
"This is another dark day for the rule of law. In the past, cases were decided solely on the basis of evidence adduced on record. It appears that this era has long time passed," Diaz said.
"It appears that the case was filed against the former President to time it with the President's forthcoming Sona (State of the Nation Address), in which he will be accorded another opportunity to pillory and demonize the former President, and worse, justify her further detention without bail even as a petition for her bail is precisely pending resolution in the court,” Diaz added.
Arroyo's successor, President Benigno Aquino III, will deliver his third Sona on July 23.
The maximum penalty for plunder is life in prison, confiscation of stolen funds and disqualification from public office for life.
Diaz said his client will avail of all the remedies under the law to prove the former President’s innocence.
Also named respondents are former PCSO general manager Rosario Uriarte; former PCSO board chairperson Sergio Valencia; former PCSO board members Manuel Morato, Jose Taruc, Raymundo Roquero and Ma. Fatima Valdes; and former PCSO budget officer Benigno Aguas.
Former COA chairperson Reynaldo Villar and former COA intelligence officer Milda Plara were also named in the charged sheet.
The review joint resolution found that respondents' series or combination of acts "form a pattern, not only of misuse and raid of PCSO's CIF from 2008-2010, but also of illegal conveyance or disposition of cash advances disbursed therefrom, all while taking advantage of their respective official functions."
It found that from January 2008 to June 2010, the aggregate amount of P365,997,915, representing cash advances were disbursed from PCSO's CIF in the names of Uriarte (P352,681,646) and Valencia (P13,316,269).
The review joint resolution observed that for a government instrumentality primarily tasked to fund health programs, medical assistance and services and charities of national character, PCSO's CIF surprisingly grew from P10 million in 2000 to P103 million in 2008.
It found perplexing that the additional CIF of P75 million, P90 million and P150 million for 2008, 2009 and 2010 (1st semester) were more than double the original CIF allocated in PCSO's corporate operating budget of P25 million, P60 million and P60 million for the same periods, respectively.
It said that the repeated identically-worded one-page requests for additional CIF did not have a specific plan, project, program or undertaking of intelligence activity, and that moreover, the requests made for 2008 and 2010 even preceded the approval of PCSO's corporate operating budget.
The review joint resolution also pointed out irregularities and deficiencies in the facilitation of the cash advances, such as disbursement vouchers with no supporting documents, false certifications or credit advices that previous advances were liquidated, lack of authorization to approve CIF disbursements for 2008, non-compliance with the form prescribed for liquidation certifications, and lack of supporting documents/receipts to prove that the amounts were used allegedly to fund relief operations or pay "blood money" to the victims of convicted OFWs.
The alleged acts constituting the charges of malversation and violations of RA 3019 were absorbed or included in the crime of plunder.
In a statement, Bayan Muna party-list Representatives Teddy Casiño welcomed the filing of the plunder complaint against Arroyo and urged Uriarte to "tell all" and turn state witness.
"Mrs. Uriarte can avail of the witness protection program if she tells all so that she can help in stopping corruption and it would be a very big load off her conscience. She should think of the many that could have been saved by the PCSO funds rather than Gloria's interests," he said.
Arroyo, once regarded as one of Asia's most powerful women, was arrested and placed in hospital detention in 2011 for allegedly ordering the tampering of 2007 elections to ensure victory for her candidates in a vote-rich and violent southern Philippine province controlled by a political ally.
She has denied the vote-tampering charge and has asked a Manila court to free her on bail. Although the election sabotage charge also is non- bailable, the court could grant Arroyo bail in about two weeks if it rules that the evidence against her is weak.
The vote-tampering charge was the first of a number of criminal cases filed against Arroyo by the Aquino administration, who has blasted his predecessor's leadership during years of corruption scandals, failed coup attempts and political unrest. Her trial in the vote-tampering case is expected to begin in August.
Aquino succeeded Arroyo in 2010 after winning a landslide victory on a promise to fight widespread corruption, poverty and misrule.
Arroyo and her camp have portrayed her prosecution as a political vendetta to destroy her reputation and mask a failure by Aquino to improve the lives of Filipinos.
Arroyo, 65, has been writing her memoir in a military hospital where she is detained and is being treated for a bone ailment, spokeswoman Maria Elena Bautista-Horn said.(Kathrina Alvarez/With AP/PNA/Sunnex)