SC urged to reverse Ombud findings on Owwa funds mess

MANILA (Updated 4:25 p.m.) -- A petition for review was filed with the Supreme Court asking to reverse the Office of the Ombudsman decision that dismissed the criminal case against former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in connection with the alleged misuse of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (Owwa) funds.

Former Solicitor General Francisco Chavez, who pursued the complaint together with the Department of Justice (DOJ) early this year, filed the petition Monday afternoon.

Arroyo scored a victory last week before the Ombudsman after it dismissed for lack of merit the complaint that she misused around half a billion pesos in welfare funds for migrant workers in 2004.

Cleared of charges of technical malversation along with Arroyo are former president of the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation Francisco Duque III; former Executive Secretary Alberto Romulo; and former chairman of the Owwa Board of Trustees Patricia Sto. Tomas, and former Owwa Board of Trustees members Virgilio Angelo, Manuel Imson, Rosalinda Baldoz, Mina Figueroa, Caroline Rogge, Victorino Balais, Gregorio Oca and Virginia Pasalo.

"Petitioner respectfully prays of this Honorable Court to review, reverse and revise the decision of the Office of the Ombudsman, approving the recommendations to dismiss the charges against herein respondents relative to the actual transfers of the amount of P530,382,445.00 Owwa medicare fund to the Philippine Health Insurance Corp (PHIC) and the amount of US$350,000 from the Owwa Capital Fund to several Labor attaches in the Middle East," Chavez said.

"By law, Owwa is the sole, exclusive and proper administrator of the Owwa funds for the direct and exclusive benefit of the OFWs. For the Office of the Ombudsman to even state that the PHIC — another government agency that is concerned with the welfare of the general community — spent each and every centavo received from Owwa Fund for the welfare and direct benefit of the OFWs smacks of misplaced justification," the petition read.

Citing data from the Commission on Audit (COA), Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales said in a 47-page memorandum that the funds were used in 2005 or a year after Arroyo narrowly won over movie actor Fernando Poe Jr. in the presidential election.

Chavez maintained that Arroyo actually gave her approval to the request for funds based on the marginal note on the March 12, 2003 memorandum of Romulo, which read, "OK charge to Owwa."

On February 14, 2003, Arroyo issued Executive Order 182, transferring the hundreds of millions of contributions of OFWs' Medicare Fund in the Owwa to the PhilHealth, allegedly for partisan purposes.

The Ombudsman disagreed, saying COA reports dated February 28, 2006 and March 15, 2007 show that the money was transferred to PhilHealth and subsequently used to bankroll programs for the OFWs.

Arroyo is currently under hospital arrest at the Veteran's Memorial Medical Center (VMMC) in Quezon City due to the P366-million plunder case in connection with the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office fund anomaly. (Virgil Lopez/Sunnex)

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