MANILA, Philippines (UPDATE) - Former president and now Pampanga 2nd District Rep. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo did not appear in Thursday's hearing at the Department of Justice (DOJ) on a complaint for plunder against her and 11 others filed by former Solicitor General Francisco Chavez for alleged misuse of millions in Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) funds.
Arroyo's lawyer, Atty. Benjamin Santos, told the DOJ panel tasked to handle the preliminary investigation on the complaint that his counsel invoked her right to be furnished copies of all evidence against her before the submission of counter-affidavit, thus there was no reason for Arroyo to be present in Thursday's proceedings.
Santos asked for more time for his client's submission of counter-affidavit for her defense since complainant Chavez filed last June 7, a request for the issuance of subpoenas duces tecum on certified true copies of memoranda, letters and an OWWA board resolution pertinent to his claim that respondents misused some P554.8-million in OWWA funds during their incumbencies.
Chavez also asked for additional documents such as official minutes of OWWA board meetings on the approval and transfer P530.38-million of the subject overseas workers' funds to the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation(Philhealth/PHIC) which he claimed was illegal.
Santos filed last June 10 a motion to suspend the period for the filing of Arroyo's counter-affidavit in the subsequent June 23 hearing.
"The panel directed parties to submit documents, that means complainant would have at the earliest time, today, June 23, to get copies of documents to support his amended complaint. In which case, we submit that there is no compliance yet by complainant as to completion of his documents to support his amended complaint and therefore, our obligation to submit counter-affidavit has not yet began. This is very clear in the (Rules of Court). As of now, there is yet bo period to speak of," Santos said.
Santos was referring to Rule 112 Section 3 on the procedure for preliminary investigations that states: "Within ten (10) days from receipt of the subpoena with the complaint and supporting affidavits and documents, the respondent shall submit his counter-affidavit and that of his witnesses and other supporting documents relied upon for his defense."
Lawyers for respondents former Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo, former Health Secretary now Civil Service Commission(CSC) chairman Francisco Duque III and former OWWA administrator Virgilio Angelo shared Santos' position and also asked for an extension of their respective clients' submission of counter-affidavits.
The DOJ panel, headed by Senior Deputy State Prosecutor Theodore Villanueva, and members Senior Assistant State Prosecutors Elizabeth Inton-Santos and Lilian Doris Alejo, initially reminded respondents' lawyers they committed to submit the counter-affidavits in Thursday's hearing and it was already an extension granted to an earlier schedule last June 6.
"The original complaint was only amended so as to implead additional respondents and you agreed to submit within 15days. We extended to 17 days," Inton-Santos pointed out.
" There (are) no words in the amended complaint that (say) completion of documents. Actually, the matter of submission of documents is upon volition of this panel, not of complainant. This is part of our investigation," Alejo said.
Chavez meantime lamented the respondents' move.
"It's still fresh on the minds of the ones here that, on national television, counsel for Gloria Macapagal Arroyo committed to file (her) counter-affidavit today. That commitment came from him, not imposed by panel. What subpoena asks is only a matter of form, there is no element of surprise because the very same documents -- photocopies of which are part of the complaint -- were subject of the subpoena," he said.
"We cannot have a procedure that is ruled by situational considerations. The moment you make a commitment to the panel that you submit a counter-affidavit on a particular daw, you cannot make a mockery of the proceedings of the panel, let alone a mockery of your own words," he added.
But respondents' counsels pointed out that copies of minutes of OWWA board meetings which form part of the request for issuance of subpoena duces tecum were not included in Chavez's complaint, to which Chavez responded by withdrawing that specific request.
Arroyo, Romulo, Duque and Angelo were, in the end, granted their motion for extension to file counter-affidavits and were directed to submit the same on July 11, the next scheduled hearing.
Respondents Patricia Sto. Tomas, former Labor Secretary and then OWWA Board chairperson; Rosalinda Baldoz, current Labor Secretary and then member of the OWWA Board of Trustees as Administrator of the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA); Manuel Imson, then Labor Undersecretary and member of the OWWA Board of Trustees; Mina Figueroa, then OWWA Board of Trustees member as representative of the Finance Department; Caroline ROgge, then OWWA Board of Trustees member as representative of the Management Sector; and Virginia Pasalo, then OWWA Board of Trustees member as representative of the Women's Sector who were included in the amended complaint filed by Chavez last June 6, were given by the panel also until July 11 to submit their respective counter-affidavits.
The period granted to respondents for the submission of counter-affidavits was non-extendable, the panel said.
Respondent Victorino Balais, then OWWA Board of Trustees member as representative of the Labor Sector, who is out of the country to attend a conference with the International Labor Organization(ILO) was directed to submit his counter-affidavit on July 22 upon request of his counsels.
Respondents were also directed by the panel to include in their counter-affidavit a discussion on a resolution by the Office of Ombudsman dated July 25, 2006 which they alleged, dismissed a similar complaint filed by Chavez against respondent.
For his part, Chavez told the panel the Ombudsman merely terminated its proceedings "without prejudice to the filing of a (new)case if evidence warrant."
Respondents, through their lawyers, were also given copies of certified true copies of an official receipt of document from the Task Force on Humanitarian Assistance dated March 15, 2003 submitted by Malacanang records custodian Marianito Dimaantal, and a certification from the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation(Philhealth/PHIC) stating there exists no duplicate memorandum on a letter to respondent Romulo of respondent Duque which Chavez appended as evidence in his complaint.