Probers junked plunder charge for Arroyo in PCSO case

by RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Nov 26 2012 09:07 PM | Updated as of Nov 27 2012 05:07 AM

MANILA, Philippines - Rosario Uriarte's lawyer on Monday said the former Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) general manager and former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo were held liable for a lower, bailable offense by an Ombudsman Panel investigating the PCSO fund mess.

Atty. Montri Santos told ABS-CBN New that a panel first created by Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales recommended a charge for the lower offense of a violation of the anti-graft and corrupt practices act over the alleged misuse of the agency’s funds.

"I cannot read the mind of the Ombudsman why she disapproved the recommendation. Siya nag-appoint ng panel to conduct a fact-finding procedure. I guess because she appointed the panel she would give credence to the recommendation," Santos said.

She said a second panel created to review the case no longer had members of the first team.

"Definitely, walang plunder recommended. In fact, aside from the statement there is no plunder, the original panel went as far as saying there is no appropriation walang pagkukupit of any kind," Santos claimed.

"That's why it could only recommend undue benefit to other parties lang under anti-graft law, which is bailable. We don't want to second guess the Ombudsman bakit niya inoverturn," she said.

Santos said the Uriarte camp presented the first resolution in a motion for reconsideration they filed last week. She said the first panel even cleared COA Auditor Nilda Plaras.

In a statement released earlier, Arroyo’s office said that the first panel of investigators of the Office of the Ombudsman had dismissed for lack of proof the complaint for plunder against Arroyo and her co-accused .

"It was also revealed that there were two versions of the resolution, called the Somido resolution because of the chairman of the panel of investigators, Cornelio Somido – one bearing the signature of Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales disapproving the same and one without her signature," the statement said.

Arroyo’s office added that the resolution signed by all investigators dismissed the plunder against Arroyo and her co-respondents former Uriarte, former PCSO Chairman Sergio Valencia, former PCSO board members Manuel Morato, Raymundo Roquero, Jose Reyes Taruc V and Ma. Fatima Valdez and merely recommended the filing of graft charges against them specifically under Section 3(e) of RA 3019.

"The existence of the Somido resolution confirms earlier claims that the first panel of investigators dismissed the plunder case against Arroyo and her co-accused but this was overturned by a second panel of investigators constituted to review the first resolution," the former president's camp said.

Arroyo's office added that the panel was composed of Deputy Special Prosecutor Cornelio Somido, Directors Nellie Boguen-Golez and Joaquin Salazar, and lawyers Roque Dator and Mary Susan Guillermo.

The panel also dismissed all charges against former Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita , Reynaldo Villar, Benigno Aguas and Nilda Plaras.

The resolution was attached by Uriarte, through her lawyer Benjamin Santos, in her motion for reconsideration on the resolution of the Ombudsman dismissing her omnibus motion for a judicial determination of probable cause and/or quash the motion.

Santos said the Sandiganbayan should be made aware of the contents of the Somido resolution because it reinforces their argument that there have been a violation of her substantive rights to due process and that there is really no factual basis for the filing of the non-bailable charge of plunder against her.

Santos said the two versions of the resolution made a finding that a plunder charge is not supported by evidence.

“What was merely established in the record was that respondent Uriarte received the check and the money representing the additional CIFs as requested, approved by respondent GMA and confirmed by the respondent Board of Directors. The encashment of the checks was evidenced by respondent Uriarte’s signature in the dorsal portion of the checks. The record is completely wanting of proof that the proceeds of the checks became the ill-gotten wealth of the respondents,” the resolution said.

It further stated that “(t)he mere fact of receipt of the amount by a public officer by the nature of his public position does not automatically categorize the amount received as ill-gotten wealth. For to construe receipt alone at that stage would create a notion that cash advances in small amounts even for minor purposes such as travel, petty cash and the like of a cashier or any public officer would already be classified as ill-gotten wealth.”

The Somido resolution also stated that "(t)o be considered as ill-gotten wealth, this Office is of the view that there must be evidence showing that the amount was already converted in some form that would establish ownership by the public officer i.e. bank deposits, properties, stocks in the name of the public officer or his/her dummies, nominees, agents, subordinates and/or business associates and not by mere physical possession of the amount."

Both versions of the Somido resolution were signed by Golez, Salazar, Dator and Guillermo on 2 March 2012 while Somido signed it on 22 March 2012. Morales disapproved the resolution on 12 July 2012, the same day when she signed the review joint resolution of the new set of investigators recommending plunder.

Arroyo earlier sought the production of the first resolution of the Ombudsman panel of investigators saying this will shed light on the appreciation of the court of the evidence filed against them.