Noy slams GMA acquittal
(The Philippine Star) - July 22, 2016 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Former president Benigno Aquino III questioned yesterday the Supreme Court’s decision to clear his predecessor, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo of the plunder charges filed against her in relation to the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) case, saying it was sending the wrong message to the people.

In a statement, Aquino said Republic Act No. 1169 or the PCSO Charter clearly stated that the agency’s funds could not be reallocated. In the case of Arroyo, the PCSO funds were transferred directly to her office while she was president based on a report submitted to the Commission on Audit.

“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?” Aquino argued in a statement.

“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?” Aquino said.

The SC ordered the release of Arroyo after it dismissed the charges against her for insufficiency of evidence. Arroyo was charged with plunder for allegedly misusing P366 million in PCSO funds during her term, which ended in 2010.

While there are criticisms that the Aquino administration failed to build a strong case against Arroyo, the Office of the Ombudsman said it was studying several options to challenge the SC decision: appeal and seek a reversal of the ruling and possibly file another plunder case arising from her alleged involvement in the misuse of PCSO intelligence funds amounting to more than P50 million from 2004 to 2007.

Based on its Charter, Aquino said the PCSO “shall be the principal government agency for raising and providing for funds for health programs, medical assistance and service, and the charities of national character” and “from the gross receipts from the sale of sweepstakes tickets, whether for sweepstakes races, lotteries, or similar activities, shall be deducted the printing cost of such tickets, which in no case shall exceed two percent of such gross receipts to arrive at the net receipts.”

The net receipts shall be allocated as follows: 55 percent as fund for the payment of prizes; 30 percent for contributions to the charity fund; and 15 percent for contributions to the operating expenses and capital expenditures of the office.

“Might I emphasize: this is written in the actual charter of the PCSO. Nowhere does it state that the funds of the agency charged to manage sweepstakes and provide charity can be reallocated for actions related to ‘bomb threat, kidnapping, destabilization and terrorism’ or for ‘bilateral and security relation,’” Aquino said.

The President said these were the purposes stated in the accomplishment report forwarded by then PCSO general manager Rosario Uriarte and budget and account manager Benigno Aguas to the COA to justify the transferring of additional funds from PCSO to the Office of the President during the time of Arroyo.

“In total, P365 million was released by PCSO over the course of (three) years, with P244.5 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,” Aquino said.

No influence

While Aquino believed in the strength of the case filed against Arroyo, he belied an accusation that he was using his influence to have his predecessor convicted before he would step down from office on June 30.

In the first place, Aquino said there was no more vacancy in the SC that he could fill and offer as reward to a Sandiganbayan justice who would convict Arroyo.

Also, Aquino said the Ombudsman had just submitted additional evidence to the SC on June 1 as requested by the high court itself since it would rule on the petition of Arroyo to have her case junked.

“We didn’t expect this to come out this soon. And so when we learned today that the Supreme Court reversed the denial by the Sandiganbayan of the demurrer to evidence, we were surprised and disappointed to say the least,” Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales said.

Morales said among the additional evidence submitted were 600 pieces of documentary evidence and 46 transcripts of stenographic notes on relevant Sandiganbayan hearings on the case.

Aquino said the last one he had to appoint to the SC was the replacement of associate justice Martin Villarama Jr., who decided to retire early in January of this year rather than April.

He said the list of the Judicial and Bar Council did not include a Sandiganbayan justice but only then justice secretary Benjamin Alfredo Caguioa, three Court of Appeals justices and former COA chairperson Maria Gracia Pulido-Tan. Aquino named Caguioa as his last appointee to the SC.

A former official of the Aquino administration said everything had been set for the conviction of Arroyo by the First Division of the anti-graft court and that Aquino was even set to appoint a Sandiganbayan magistrate to the SC as a reward for it.

But the vacancies in the SC will only occur in December when associate justices Jose Perez and Arturo Brion retire.

Imprisonment

“Reviewing RA 1169 and the actions approved by Mrs. Arroyo, one may wonder: were such acts allowable under the law? To answer this question, we can actually glean the spirit of the law in the same Charter, which has penalties for those who utilize PCSO funds beyond what is enumerated,” the former president said.

Section 8 of the PCSO Charter states: “The following shall be punished by imprisonment of not less than one month and not more than three years… Any officer or employee of a hospital or other charitable or hygienic institution or organization who uses funds obtained from the Office under this Act for purposes other than those herein authorized.”

“Second, in a normal corporate setting, a financial officer who does not know how to prepare a budget is either fired or, at least, demoted,” Aquino said, adding this was because any company that was forced to source additional funds, due to incorrect budgeting, would either: lose the expected profit, precisely because a portion of it would be allocated to cover the required amount or suddenly borrow at an interest and thus use its earnings to pay the loan.

“In another instance: when a company has a manager who forces the firm to incur losses or to borrow with interest, only to have what is borrowed left unused, such inept managerial practice is severely penalized. 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.

Aquino said any unforeseen event would perhaps make the request for additional funds understandable.

“However, such a practice was tolerated for (three) years, to the extent that the letters of request issued by Mrs. Uriarte to Mrs. Arroyo appeared to be very formatted,” Aquino said.

“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?” Aquino asked.

When they came into office, Aquino said the board he appointed to the PCSO, in one of their earlier meetings, put forward this problem: a number of hospitals did not accept PCSO promissory notes and guarantee letters, due to the long-standing arrears from the agency.

“Case in point: data covering 2003 to 2010 show that P71.39 million was needed for 1,920 cases that had guarantee letters. One cannot help but think: if P365 million was used for its intended purpose, how many of our countrymen could have been afforded the basic and necessary service that they deserve?” Aquino pointed out.

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