|Former Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office general manager Rosario Uriarte breaks into tears before the Senate Blue Ribbon committee investigating charges of alleged misuse of intelligence funds from the state lottery office. Photo by Junny Roy for abs-cbnNEWS.com
P54-M PCSO intelligence funds in 2007 missing
MANILA, Philippines (UPDATE) - The Senate Blue Ribbon Committee on Thursday uncovered more irregularities in the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) during the Arroyo administration, including missing intelligence funds in 2007.
Commission on Audit (COA) Commissioner Heidi Mendoza said the former PCSO Board failed to account for P54 million in intelligence funds for 2007, an election year.
"We cannot find the records. [Former] COA Chairman [Reynaldo] Villar and staff certified that when they came in, the records are not existing. It’s for the entire 2007. There is no liquidation," Mendoza told the senators.
"Either the documents are not submitted or somebody took it. There should be no credit advise issued, no further releases until there was liquidation," she added.
For their part, senators questioned why the PCSO allegedly used its intelligence fund for counter-terrorism, anti-kidnapping, anti-destabilization, and prevention of bomb threats.
Former PCSO General Manager Rosario Uriarte reasoned that some lotto operators and even the PCSO data center sometimes get bomb threats.
Mendoza noted that a previous circular relaxed the requirements in the liquidation of Confidential and Intelligence Funds (CIF) of government agencies. She said that instead of receipts and other documents, the officer assigned to liquidate the fund merely provided a certification that the fund was used for its intended purpose.
Uriarte keeps mum on SALN, encashments
At the start of the hearing, Uriarte told the senators that she is invoking her right against self-incrimination after her previous testimony in the Blue Ribbon Committee hearing led to the filing of a plunder complaint against her.
She alleged that after last week's hearings, her elderly parents have fallen ill to the point where her father vomits uncontrollably. She said that even her own family has become the subject of public ridicule.
"The indictment for a serious crime for which there is no bail has become unbearable," she told senators.
"I invoke my constitutional right to remain silent...It is not not fair to provide my persecutors...further statements to prosecute me. Humihiling po ako sa inyo ng pag-unawa. Maawa kayo sa aking pamilya, kahit hindi na sa akin," she added.
For his part, Sen. Teofisto 'TG' Guingona and Sen. Franklin Drilon acknowledged Uriarte's right against self-incrimination but said she cannot claim blanket authority on all questions asked of her. He said Uriarte could ask her lawyer Raul Lambino if her answers to the senators' questions could incriminate her.
Uriarte admitted that the PCSO spent P17 million of its own funds for "blood money" of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) after receiving a phone call from Malacañang. She, however, could not identify the official who called her.
"I got a call from Malacañang about the need for blood money. I don’t remember anymore. I said I need authority to do that. I have a plunder case about this so anything I say may affect my case," she told senators.
Uriarte also kept mum about a Philippine National Bank certification that she encashed a total of P102.5 million in PCSO funds for the first 6 months of 2010, also an election year.
Finally, she invoked her right against self-incrimination on why her assets increased from P6.1 million in 2007 to P10.6 million in 2008.
She said she received P2.6 million in non-taxable allowances from PCSO, but failed to account for the remaining P2 million in her assets.
Uriarte agreed with Drilon's request to open her bank documents to Senate scrutiny.
Co-mingling of funds
Mendoza, meanwhile, said the former PCSO Board co-mingled its funds intended for prize money, charity and operations.
Under the PCSO Charter, 55% of its profits must be allocated for prize money, 30% for charity and 15% for operations.
Mendoza said the COA had warned PCSO about co-mingling its funds since 2007. She said a COA audit showed the PCSO's operating budget incurred a net loss of P43 million "because the intelligence fund was too high."
Similarly, she said the charity fund had a net loss of P128 million while the prize money fund had a net income of P83 million.
Former PCSO officials were at a loss about explaining the co-mingling of funds. Former PCSO Chairman Sergio Valencia said there was no order from Malacañang to co-mingle the funds.
"The best person to clarify the findings of COA is the head of budget and accounting of PCSO," he added.
Former PCSO Director Manoling Morato, for his part, said the co-mingling of funds has been in place since 1994.