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Ombudsman junks plunder raps vs. Arroyo over alleged misuse of OWWA funds


The Office of the Ombudsman has dismissed the graft and plunder charges against former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in relation to the alleged misuse of about P530 million from the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration, her lawyer said Wednesday.
This is the third time that the Office of the Ombudsman has dismissed plunder complaints against Mrs. Arroyo. Previously, the charges involving the sale of the old Iloilo airport in 2007 and the NBN-ZTE broadband deal that same year were also dismissed.
 
In a phone interview, Mrs. Arroyo’s legal counsel Benjamin Santos said the Ombudsman junked the complaint for insufficient evidence.
“We got the resolution last week and the Ombudsman dismissed the plunder charges," Santos said. He said Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales approved the 47-page memorandum-resolution, but as of posting time, the Ombudsman’s Media Office had yet to officially release a copy of the resolution. A separate statement from the Arroyo camp said: “Graft investigators turned down an earlier recommendation by the Department of Justice recommending the filing of technical malversation against Mrs. Arroyo and ten others as they found no evidence to establish that Mrs. Arroyo and her co-respondents misused or misappropriated the funds intended for overseas Filipino workers.” 
 
“The Ombudsman found that the amount reached their intended beneficiaries through the assistance given to them by the government,” the statement added. The complaint was filed by former Solicitor-General Frank Chavez and OFW group Migrante International last year. They alleged the former president of misusing over P550 million worth of funds from OWWA. “Viewed in its proper perspective therefore, the charges of Chavez against the respondents Macapagal-Arroyo (et. al.) insofar as the transfer of the OWWA Medicare funds amounting to P530,382,446.00 to PHIC is concerned, must necessarily fail," the statement from the Arroyo camp quoted the Ombudsman resolution as saying.
Aside from Mrs. Arroyo, those implicated in the alleged irregularity were:
 
  • Former President and CEO of Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PHIC) Francisco Duque III
  • Former Executive Secretary Alberto Romulo
  • Former OWWA Chairman of Board of Trustees Patricia Sto. Tomas
  • OWWA Board of Trustees members Virgilio Angelo, Manuel Imson, Rosalinda Baldoz, Mina Figueroa, Caroline Rogge, Victorino Balais, Gregorio Oca and Virginia Pasalo
Fund transfer was legal
In a separate 11-page supplemental memorandum, the Ombudsman also junked the charges against Mrs. Arroyo involving OWWA fund transfers amounting to $293,500 and P5 million.
 
Mrs. Arroyo, who now represents Pampanga's second district in the House of Representatives, allegedly diverted the OWWA funds to purchase vehicles and to stockpile money in Philippine posts abroad.
 
“It was legal for the President to approve the request for release and OWWA to have released such amount since it was part of the US$1 million contingency fund set up by the office for the welfare of OFWs caught in the Middle East crisis in 2003,” the statement from the Arroyo camp read.
 
The Commision on Audit attested that the amount was indeed used in the relief and repatriation of overseas Filipinos in the labor offices in Kuwait, Lebanon, Jordan, Oman, Bahrain, Egypt and Iran faced with the Middle East crisis caused by the US-Iraq conflict in 2003. The COA also said the amount had been properly liquidated.
 
"With the above findings of the COA, there is no cogent reason to proceed with the investigation of the subject transactions. Hence, the dismissal of the charges is in order," the statement said. Harrassment suits? Another counsel of Mrs. Arroyo, Raul Lambino, welcomed the development. 
 
“The dismissal of the OWWA case is clear proof that the cases filed by PNoy (President Benigno Aquino III) against GMA (Mrs. Arroyo's initials) have no leg of evidence to stand on,” Lambino told GMA News Online in a text message.
 
He added that the charges against Mrs. Arroyo “are purely harassment suits intended for political expediency and motivated by hatred and vindictiveness.”  
Currently, Mrs. Arroyo is under hospital arrest at the Veterans Memorial Medical Center in Quezon City while her plunder case on the alleged misuse of Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office’s intelligence fund is being heard. The former President is suffering from a heart disease, ischemia, and a bone mineral disorder.
 
Apart from the PCSO fund mess, Mrs. Arroyo is also facing electoral sabotage charges filed against her by the Commission on Elections. A Pasay court allowed her to post bail for that case in July. — RSJ, GMA News
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