MANILA, Philippines (2nd UPDATE) - "Today is one of those days of reckoning."
These were the first words uttered to the media by former Solicitor-General Frank Chavez upon his filing of a complaint for plunder before the Department of Justice (DOJ) Tuesday against former president and now Pampanga Congresswoman Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, two of her former alter-egos and another high-ranking government official for the alleged misuse of Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) funds mainly for purposes of Arroyo's reelection bid in the 2004 elections.
The 23-page complaint filed at the Department of Justice (DOJ) on Tuesday named former Arroyo executive secretary and former Foreign Affairs secretary Alberto Romulo, former Arroyo health secretary and current Civil Service Commission (CSC) Chair Francisco Duque III, and former OWWA administrator Virgilio Angelo as Arroyo's co-respondents.
Chavez claimed some P554.8-million in OWWA funds derived from contributions of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) and their employers were misused by Arroyo, et al., over P530-million of which were transferred from the OWWA Medicare Fund to the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (Philhealth/PHIC) in February 2004 to allegedly boost Arroyo's presidential campaign.
Chavez, who filed the complaint in his capacity as a taxpayer, claimed the transfer was made possible upon instructions by Arroyo in June 2002 through then Cabinet Secretary Ricardo Saludo for the issuance of guidelines on "the management and utilization of the OWWA Fund" and "the streamlining of operations and administrative systems and procedures."
"This institutionalized de facto control over the OWWA fund led to opportunities for flagrant, unabated abuse, prominent among which is the channeling of hundreds of millions of contributions by OFWs to the PHIC for purely partisan purposes, particularly to enhance the electoral campaign of respondent GMA in the 2004 elections," the complaint read.
"This was extracted, transferred from the medicare fund belonging to the OFWs to Philhealth for the purpose of putting up insurance coverage, but the existing law at that time would make this transfer unnecessary because of the existence of the insurance fund already for the OFWs," Chavez said.
He claimed the transfer of funds from the OWWA Medicare Fund to Philhealth "amounts to misappropriation, misuse, and malversation" since said transfer to pay for insurance coverage under Philhealth was "unrelated to the purposes for which the OWWA fund was established."
He argued that the OWWA fund already provided for insurance coverage which rendered said transfer redundant and unnecessary.
The complaint alleged that Duque, as then President and Chief Executive Officer of PHIC, "proposed, instigated and cooperated in the channeling" of the funds.
Chavez submitted evidence to prove Duque "made no bones about the intended purpose" of the transfer of health insurance funds through a memorandum issued by Duque attached to a proposed executive order providing for such transfer. Chavez referred to the portion of the memorandum that read: "The proposed transfer will have a significant bearing on 2004 elections..."
"It is very clear in the documents that this was intended for the 2004 elections. Very clearly. So therefore, this is another indication, another proof, that this money was diverted from OFW trust funds and which was used for election purposes by Gloria Macapagal Arroyo," Chavez said.
Chavez also alleged that over P24-million in OWWA funds were also misappropriated to Philippine diplomatic posts in the Middle East in 2003 during the United States(US)-led war against Iraq for purposes of "preparatory activities," "purchase of vehicles," and "stockpiling" of the posts in Kuwait, Lebanon, Jordan, Oman, Egypt and Iran.
These included separate allocations of US $293,500, US $53,000 and P5-million for the above-mentioned posts requested by Romulo, in his capacity as executive secretary.
Chavez alleged these diversion and misuse of the OWWA fund "do not contribute, and could never have contributed, to the direct and exclusive benefit of the Filipino overseas workers."
Arroyo reportedly gave the green light for these appropriations by indicating marginal notes of "OK charge to OWWA" on at least two memoranda dated March 12, 2003 and May 5, 2003 for request of funds issued by Romulo.
"This was all very well orchestrated because in all the recommendations made by the respondents, there was always the handwritten notation made by Gloria Macapagal Arroyo 'OK charge to OWWA funds.' But the OWWA funds are funds held in trust by the government and they cannot dip their fingers into the cookie jar that exclusively belongs to the overseas Filipino workers," Chavez said.
As for Angelo, the complaint alleged he "facilitated, and cooperated in, the diversion of hundreds of millions of pesos from the OWWA fund" because all the questioned appropriations happened during his stint as OWWA administrator.
Charges against respondents for Malversation and/or Illegal use of Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) Fund, Graft and Corruption, Violations of the Omnibus Election Code and Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials, and Qualified Theft were included in Chavez's complaint.
These charges, he said, were not included in in a prior plunder complaint he filed before the Office of the Ombudsman against Arroyo for the same grounds. The investigation into that complaint was closed and terminated in the absence of sufficient evidence to indict Arroyo.
"And that is why we have brought this case here, not with the Office of the Ombudsman because I am not going to engage again in an exercise of futility and frustration knowing fully well that there is sufficient basis as born out by the articles of impeachment that the Ombudsman now acted to protect Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and, up to this present day, she is still protecting her and her cohorts," Chavez said.
With the refiling of the complaint at the DOJ, Chavez's message to Arroyo and her co-respondents is: "Some people think that they can run, but they cannot hide. The long arm of the law will catch up with them in the fullness of time."
Arroyo's spokesperson, Elena Bautista-Horn, told ABS-CBN News the former president will not issue any statement until she receives a copy of the complaint.
Duque, for his part, insists the transfer of funds to Philhealth was above-board and done in 2005 - after Arroyo was reelected into office - and not in 2004.