Ombudsman: Arroyo plunder case is ours

By Michael Punongbayan, The Philippine Star

Posted at Apr 29 2011 10:41 AM | Updated as of Apr 29 2011 06:41 PM

MANILA, Philippines - The Office of the Ombudsman will take over the plunder case of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo after the investigation of the Department of Justice (DOJ).

Assistant Ombudsman Evelyn Baliton said the anti-graft agency has exclusive jurisdiction over all criminal cases against government officials and employees.

“If it is within the DOJ’s mandate to initiate an investigation, and if that investigation is in the nature of fact-finding, whatever finding of that investigation will be forwarded to our office,” Baliton said yesterday.

Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said the DOJ has authority to look into the plunder complaint against Arroyo and her former officials.

Arroyo is leaving her fate to the courts, former spokesman Gary Olivar said yesterday.

“That (guilty or not) is up to the court to decide,” he said.

“Due process is there to separate the rumor from the substance of the statement, we have to rely on that, regardless if you are a former president or not.”

House of Representatives Senior Deputy Minority Leader Danilo Suarez earlier predicted the case would be dismissed by the court.

OWWA: Fund transfer legal

Administrator Carmelita Dimzon of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) believes the transfer of the agency’s fund to the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) has legal basis.

Speaking to reporters in Lingayen, Pangasinan, Dimzon said that it is unfair to link the agency to the plunder case against Arroyo and three of her former officials.

“When the news hit the papers, we immediately got the papers from our files and we saw that the transfer of the P530 million that attorney Frank Chavez was questioning was all in order,” she said.

“The fund previously managed by OWWA for Medicare was transferred to PhilHealth because PhilHealth is taking care of the health benefits of OFWs.”

Dimzon said no anomaly is involved in the fund transfer as far as the OWWA is concerned.

“No one is involved in the anomaly, as far we are concerned, none,” she said.

Duque: OWWA losing money

OWWA was losing a lot of money to fraudulent health insurance claims prior to the transfer of its funds to PhilHealth in 2005, a former PhilHealth president said yesterday.

Civil Service Commission chairman Francisco Duque III said that was one reason why PhilHealth took over OWWA’s Medicare finances pursuant to Republic Act 7875, which requires that the government should only have one insurance system.

Duque told The STAR former OWWA chair Patricia Sto. Tomas and Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz, a former OWWA board member, have confirmed the leakages.

Duque, who was PhilHealth president when the P530-million fund transfer was made, said between P150,000 to P250,000 was released to fictitious health care benefit claimants sometime in 2003 or 2004.        

“They investigated and found fictitious addresses and names or persons that were nonexistent,” he said.

Duque said the health insurance claims spoke of catastrophic illnesses like cancer that needed immediate financial assistance.

“They were bleeding from the fraudulent claims, it appears that there were many occasions,” he said.

Duque assured overseas Filipino workers that OWWA Medicare funds are being used properly for health care insurance.

“You can ask for records,” he said. “The funds are used for nothing else but your healthcare. Don’t worry. Your funds are being taken care of by PhilHealth Insurance Corp.”

As early as 1997, PhilHealth has been pushing for the transfer of OWWA insurance funds, Duque said.

Baldoz: Fund transfer legal

Labor Secretary Baldoz vouched yesterday for the legality of the transfer of some P530 million in OWWA funds to PhilHealth.

“I am a signatory to the resolution allowing the release of funds, but there is a legal basis for the transfer of funds from OWWA to PhilHealth,” she said.

Baldoz said the OWWA board approved the release of the funds based on an executive order of President Ramos in 1994 requiring insurance coverage for all OFWs.

An executive order issued by President Arroyo also provided for the transfer of OWWA funds to PhilHealth, she added.

Baldoz said the funds transferred to PhilHealth from OWWA should be used solely to provide health insurance coverage for OFWs.

“The guideline is very clear that the fund is solely for the insurance coverage of OFWs, and if ever the fund was used for other purposes we are no longer aware of it and only PhilHealth can explain the actual disbursement,” she said.

Lacierda: Palace not involved

Malacañang is not involved in the filing of the plunder case against Arroyo, presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said yesterday.

“It is not true that Malacañang is behind the plunder case against GMA,” he said.

“In fact, we haven’t seen a copy of the complaint (filed by former Solicitor General Frank Chavez).

“So we cannot comment, whether it has loopholes or not. I guess that would be a natural defense of those who are on the side of (the) accused.” – With Eva Visperas, Mayen Jaymalin, Paolo Romero, Delon Porcalla