'No crime happened? Who's accountable?'
MANILA - Former President Benigno Aquino III has reacted to the Supreme Court's (SC) acquittal of his predecessor, now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.
In a statement released Thursday, Aquino raised questions on the high court's decision to grant her petition for a demurrer to evidence in connection with her case involving nearly P366 million in Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) funds.
Voting 11-4, the high court said there was no sufficient evidence to sustain Arroyo's indictment for plunder and prove the existence of a conspiracy among the former president and PCSO officials, adding that the Sandiganbayan was guilty of grave abuse of discretion.
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Aquino, however, pointed out that nowhere in the PCSO's Charter is it stated that the agency's funds can be reallocated for actions related to "bomb threat, kidnapping, destabilization and terrorism" or for "bilateral and security relation."
These, Aquino said, were the purposes stated in the accomplishment report forwarded by former PCSO General Manager Rosario Uriarte and Benigno Aguas to the Commission on Audit (COA) to justify the disbursement of the funds to the Office of the President from 2008 to 2010.
Aquino stressed that the law provides that the PCSO shall be responsible for "raising and providing for funds for health programs, medical assistance and service, and the charities of national character" from the sale of sweepstakes tickets.
"In total, 365 million pesos was released by PCSO over the course of 3 years, with 244.5 million, as stated in the report of Mr. Aguas, transferred to the Office of the President. The overwhelming bulk of the funds, at 66.9 percent, were used for activities not sanctioned by the Charter of the PCSO," he said.
"Reviewing RA 1169 and the actions approved by Mrs. Arroyo, one may wonder: Were such acts allowable under the law?"
Aquino also said the penalty for those who utilize PCSO funds beyond what is enumerated in the agency's Charter is imprisonment of not less than one month and not more than three years.
IN A CORPORATE SETTING....
He added that in a normal corporate setting, a financial officer who does not know how to prepare a budget is either fired or, at least, demoted.
"In the case of the PCSO funds, instead of penalizing those who failed to prepare the right budget, it seems that Mrs. Arroyo actually supported and encouraged poor managerial performance, to the extent that transfers were repeatedly allowed," Aquino said.
"An unforeseen event would perhaps make the request for additional funds understandable. However, such a practice was tolerated for 3 years, to the extent that the letters of request issued by Mrs. Uriarte to Mrs. Arroyo appeared to be very formatted.
"I wonder: What kind of superior espouses such practice? How does one justify mismanagement to such a degree? With Mrs. Arroyo giving acquiescence and approval, doesn't this make her also accountable?" he added.
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According to Aquino, when he came into office in 2010, he learned that some hospitals refused to accept promissory notes and guarantee letters from the PCSO due to the long-standing arrears from the agency.
From 2003 to 2010, he said, a total of P71.39 million was needed for 1,920 cases that had guarantee letters.
He said he could not help but think how many Filipinos could have been afforded the basic and necessary service that they deserve if the P365 million transferred to Arroyo's office was used for its intended purpose.
"Now I ask: By ordering the release and exoneration of Mrs. Arroyo, what is the Supreme Court saying: That nothing anomalous transpired? That no crime happened? That no one should be held to account? That the funds were used properly?
"What is the recourse now of the Filipino people, when it is clear that a substantial amount of public funds did not go to the intended services, which would have alleviated the suffering of many of our countrymen?" said Aquino.