Arroyo overseas, mum on plunder of OWWA funds

By RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Apr 28 2011 01:16 PM | Updated as of Apr 29 2011 01:50 AM

MANILA, Philippines - Former President and now Pampanga 2nd District Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is overseas for a speaking engagement as  she and her former Cabinet members face plunder raps for alleged misuse of a trust fund for overseas Filipino workers during her term.

Her former spokesman, Gary Olivar, confirmed this when he made an appearance at the Serye Media Forum attended by 2 of Arroyo’s co-accused, her former Health Secretary Francisco Duque and former Overseas Workers Welfare Administration chief (OWWA) Virgilio Angelo.

"She’s abroad. As far as I know, she’s on a personal speaking engagement," Olivar said.

Elena Bautista-Horn, Arroyo’s current chief of staff and spokeswoman, was not at the forum. However, in a separate text message, Horn confirmed her boss is set to deliver a speech in the Dominican Republic.

“She’s on her way to the Dominican republic by invitation of their president to talk at a forum," Horn said.

Arroyo’s official camp remained silent on the plunder case, preferring to let allies do the talking.

Marginal notes

On Wednesday, lawyer Francisco Chavez showed ABS-CBN Arroyo’s marginal notes in 2003 memoranda authorizing the use of OWWA funds in the preparations of the Philippine government to help OFWs affected by the 2003 US-Iraq war.

The marginal notes, however, made no reference to the transfer of half a billion pesos in OWWA Medicare funds to the PhilHealth, which is the main point of Chavez’s plunder complaint filed before the Justice Department.

Olivar said it is not uncommon for executives to make marginal notes. “Any executive leaves a marginal note when necessary. The issue is if it means more. Wala naman ganung klaseng implikasyon.”

Angelo explained that the marginal note of the president was for official use. “Yung marginal note na yun, nagkaroon ng presidential team para sa preparedness ng Iraq.”

Duque reiterated that Republic Act 7875, which created the PhilHealth, authorized the transfer.

RA 7875 was enacted during the term of then President Fidel Ramos. RA 7875 amended all laws administering the Medicare program of the government.

ABS-CBN News looked up the law and found the following pertinent portions.

“SEC. 57. Repealing Clause. - Executive Order 119, Presidential Decree 1519 and other laws currently applying to the administration of Medicare are hereby repealed. All other laws, executive orders, administrative rules and regulations or parts thereof which are inconsistent with the provisions of this Act are also hereby amended, modified, or repealed accordingly.”

However, for the most part of the law, it talks about the Medicare program of the SSS and GSIS.

Olivar said he has not talked to Arroyo about the case, saying they only meet socially.

OWWA funds not used for 2004 election

Duque, meanwhile, laughed off prospects he will be jailed over this case. He said he has 2 checks dated March 2005 and April 2005 transferring OWWA Medicare funds to PhilHealth.

"Ito'y malinaw na malinaw na hindi ginamit sa eleksyon o kampaniya ng dating pangulong GMA," he said.

Chavez on Wednesday said the 2005 release of the money only means that it may have been used to pay election expenses. Duque denied this.

The former health chief also denied feeling persecuted by the current administration.

“Mahirap naman ako manghula. Ayoko manghula dahil baka bunsod pa ito ng intriga, wala namang persecution. They all operate on concept of trust funds, di pwedeng gamitin sa ibang kadahilanan,” he said.

Angelo echoed the same sentiment. “Wala naman pong dahilan para magkaroon ng feeling na pine-pressure. Wala naman akong hawak na sensitibong posisyon maliban sa maliit na directorship.”

Improved health benefits for OFWs

Angelo said the fund transfer actually redounded to the improvement of PhilHealth benefits for OFWs. “Tingin ko po ay na-improve pa benepisyo at serbisyo, mas malawak ang network ng PhilHealth kesa OWWA,” he said.

He said the transfer was the product of lengthy negotiations between OWWA and PhilhHealth to make sure only the exact amount to cover one year’s worth of benefits was transferred. “Naging maayos ang pagkakalipat ng pondong ito," Angelo said.

Duque said the transfer actually made fund management more efficient.

“Pinakamagandang nangyari na nilipat ng OWWA Medicare sa PhilHealth. Naiwasan ang leakages,  sinabi ni [Labor] Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz at ni Secretary Pat Sto. Tomas, dating chairperson ng OWWA. Nuong nangangasiwa ang OWWA ng Medicare funds, P150,000-P250,000 nababayaran nila sa claims pero pag pinapa-validate either wala address o wala tao."

Duque asked his accusers to go to the PhilHealth and audit the funds, which remain intact within the corporation.

He belied accusations it was used in the release of health cards during the 2004 presidential campaign, saying the PhilHealth releases cards annually.