MANILA, Philippines (1st UPDATE) - Plunder charges filed by the Ombudsman against Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and other officials in connection with the alleged misuse of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office's (PCSO) intelligence funds could be case that will send the former President to prison.
Author and journalist Marites Vitug, president of the Journalism for Nation Building Foundation, believes that this is a stronger case against Arroyo compared to the electoral sabotage case for which the former President is now under hospital arrest.
"This is the case that seems to be the most promising based on what we have seen in the Senate [investigation] in terms of documentary evidence, when the President approved these funds, and the testimony of [former PCSO General Manager Rosario] Uriarte," Vitug told ANC Prime Time on Monday night.
She said the Office of the Ombudsman was thorough in investigating the misuse of the funds that were earlier revealed in Senate hearings.
"With the Ombudsman's Office, they've been quite deliberate. There's some thoroughness here before they filed the plunder case," Vitug said.
She said the ball is now in the hands of the Sandiganbayan. "I hope it doesn't take many years to resolve this."
Filed in time for SONA?
In a statement, Anacleto Diaz, a lawyer of Mrs. Arroyo, said it appears the case was filed in time for President Aquino's State of the Nation Address (SONA) next week.
"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 the case was filed against the former President to time it with the President's forthcoming SONA 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," he said.
"We will avail of all remedies under the law even as we stand ready to prove that the present charges against her are devoid of merit," he added.
Plunder is a non-bailable offense.
Arroyo's co-respondents in the case are Uriarte; Assistant General Manager for Finance Benigno Aguas; former PCSO board members Sergio Valencia, Manuel Morato, Raymundo Roquero, Jose Taruc V, and Maria Fatima Valdes; former Commission on Audit (COA) Chairman Reynaldo Villar and COA Region 5 head Nilda Plaras.
The said 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 case stemmed from two separate complaints filed by Jaime Regalario, Risa Hontiveros-Baraquel and Danilo Lim, for plunder, malversation and violation of Republic Act (RA) No. 3019; and by the PCSO itself represented by Eduardo Araullo, for plunder and violation of RA 3019.
PCSO Director Aleta Tolentino earlier said the COA officials were included due to “conspiracy and connivance.”
The complaint accused the 10 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.
It said the group 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."
A Senate Blue Ribbon Commmittee investigation had showed that Mrs. Arroyo approved PCSO GM Uriarte's request for the use of intel funds from 2008 to 2010. The investigation showed the intelligence funds were used to purchase relief goods and to pay "blood money" for overseas Filipino workers.
Intel funds used for 'noble causes,' Morato claims
Morato, in a separate interview on ANC Prime Time, defended the use of the PCSO's intelligence funds.
He also said he did not have a hand in their use.
"In fairness to the general manager [Uriarte], I know what she did with the fund, she used it for 'noble causes,'" Morato said.
"Ang pera ng PCSO, for the OFWs in death row to save their lives, pay their lawyers, and pay blood money," he said.
He also admitted that Arroyo approved their use. "It's the prerogative of the President."
Morato also claimed that the practice is "also happening right now."
"Once approved by the president, there's nothing you can do. The PCSO is under the Office of the President. We cannot dictate on the higher office. We have to follow the President's instruction and approval," he said.
He also claimed that some of the money were also used to help victims of tropical storm Ondoy.
"To go through a channel, to ask for charity fund from different departments, patay na iyung mga tao. Ginagamit itong intelligence na ito, para biglaan, gamitin," he said. "Yet, I really don't have anything to do with that."
"You can use the intelligence funds for anything. That's why it's called intelligence fund," Morato said.
Intelligence-gathering not in PCSO's mandate
Hontiveros-Baraquel, one of the complainants, rejected Morato's claim on the former administration's use-all policy for intelligence funds.
"My understanding, as a citizen, ay may mga ahensiya ng pamahalaan which are charged with intelligence functions pero hindi iyon sa PCSO. That is a fact, Mr. former chairman," he told Morato in their face-off.
"Wala po sa charter ninyo," she added.
Hontiveros-Baraquel said Morato seems to have admitted some of the allegations in the plunder complaint.
"Halimbawa po, sinasabi ninyo that there was in fact a P150 million amount approved for intelligence where in fact, wala po sa mandato ng PCSO na for intelligence," she said.
"Sinabi niyo rin po na inaprubahan ito ng dating Pangulo. This is why she is the principal respondent in our case," she added.
"Panahon na po para harapin ni GMA iyung mga kaso. Unfortunately, nandoon din iyung mga dating directors, iyung dating executive secretary, iyung dating general manager who did various acts or omissions in terms of the intelligence funds," she said.
The former Akbayan party-list lawmaker said the complaint is based on the discoveries made in the Senate Blue Ribbon committee investigation.
"Hindi lang namin ito ginawa ngayong taon. Noong nakaraang taon pa. Ngayon, nagkakataon na may bagong ombudsman na nakikinig sa reklamo ng mamamayan, tinitimbang niy," she said. "Salamat naman, nakita ng kaniyang office nayon, may merito iyung kaso. We really welcome the filing fo this plunder case sa Sandiganbayan."
"We believe the case is airtight," she said.
Information on Arroyo et al, plunder case on PCSO intelligence funds