MANILA – A former Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) board member and co-accused of former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in a P366-million plunder case entered Thursday a not guilty plea before the Sandiganbayan.
Jose Taruc V, in handcuffs, arrived at the Sandiganbayan before 8 a.m.., dodging reporters' questions on his decision to finally surface. He was arraigned at the anti-graft court's First Division.
Taruc surrendered to authorities last Monday after leaving the country on July 19, 2012, a week ahead the issuance of a hold departure order (HDO) by the anti-graft court against him and the other accused.
Aside from Arroyo and Taruc, the other respondents in the plunder case are former PCSO General Manager Rosario Uriarte, Assistant General Manager for Finance Benigno Aguas, former PCSO board members Sergio Valencia, Manuel Morato, Raymundo Roquero, and Maria Fatima Valdes.
Former Commission on Audit (COA) Chairman Reynaldo Villar and COA Region 5 head Nilda Plaras are also included in the case filed.
In filing the plunder case, the Office of the Ombudsman noted the respondents' acts "form a pattern, not only of misuse and raid of PCSO's CIF (confidential/intelligence funds) from 2008-2010, but also of illegal conveyance or disposition of cash advances disbursed therefrom, all the while taking advantage of their respective official functions."
The aggregate amount of P365,997,915 representing cash advances were supposedly disbursed from PCSO’s CIF in the names of Uriarte (P352,681,646) and Valencia (P13,316,269) from January 2008 to June 2010.
The Ombudsman said the increase in allocation for the CIF was perplexing.
It said the CIF “surprisingly” grew from P10 million in 2000 to P103 million in 2008 considering that PCSO is primarily tasked only to fund health programs, medical assistance, among others.
It also noted the identically-worded, one-page requests for additional CIF, but which did not have specific plans or programs indicated.
It noted the requests made for 2008 and 2010 even preceded the approval of PCSO’s corporate operating budget.
The respondents were accused of conspiring with one another” to "willfully, unlawfully and criminally amass…ill-gotten wealth in the aggregate amount or total value of P365,997,915.00."
The group allegedly diverted funds from the PCSO operating budget to its confidential/intelligence fund that could be accessed and withdrawn at any time with minimal restrictions. It accused the group of “raiding the public treasury” and “taking advantage of their respective official positions, authority, relationships, connections or influence in several instances to unjustly enrich themselves."
Taruc earlier asked the Supreme Court (SC) to reverse the finding of probable cause against him for the crime of plunder in connection with the alleged misuse in PCSO funds, and nullify the warrant for his arrest.
In a 41-page petition for certiorari and prohibition, Taruc alleged that the Office of the Ombudsman committed grave abuse of discretion in "ignoring its factual findings that petitioner (Taruc) did not benefit the least from the public funds in question." – with a report from Adrian Ayalin, ABS-CBN News