GMA plunder case

BREAKTHROUGH - Elfren S. Cruz - The Philippine Star

The Sandiganbayan has suspended its hearings on the P365,997,915 plunder case against Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. This is unfortunate because, based on the evidence, the Ombudsman apparently has a very strong case for the conviction of former President Arroyo.

The criminal charges for plunder by the Office of the Ombudsman was filed on July 16, 2012. Arroyo and her co-accused were charged to have conspired in the amassing, accumulating and acquiring of ill-gotten wealth (public funds) amounting to more than P365 million, through a series of the following acts committed in 2008-2010:

• Diverting funds from the operating budget of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) to its “confidential and intelligence fund” (CIF) and converting, misusing and illegally conveying or transferring the fund to themselves in the guise of fictitious expenditures – for their personal gain or benefit.

• Raiding the public treasury by withdrawing, receiving, unlawfully transferring or conveying the so-called “confidential and  intelligence fund”  into their possession and control through irregularly issued disbursement vouchers and fictitious expenditures.

• - Taking advantage of their respective official positions and authority to unjustly enrich themselves in the aforementioned sum.

The PCSO is not an intelligence gathering agency. It is the “principal government agency for raising and providing funds for health programs, medical assistance and services and charities of national character.” It operates charity sweepstakes races, lotteries and other similar activities for this purpose.

The report of the Ombudsman also revealed certain vital facts:

• The PCSO had been operating on a deficit since 2003 (except in 2005) until 2009. Its operating expenses exceeded its operating budget in 2007, 2008 and 2009.

Accordingly, there are no excess funds that can be allocated for the excessive “confidential and  intelligence funds” approved to be released and used by Arroyo for 2008 to 2010.

• The PCSO Operating Budget still provided an expense provision for “confidential and intelligence fund” for the years 2008 to 2010.

• The amounts approved for “confidential and intelligence fund” approved and used by Arroyo were even in excess of the approved “confidential and intelligence fund” in the PCSO operating budget and was made even without available budget that can fund the excess funds.

In other words, the Ombudsman said that the budget allocation for the “confidential and intelligence fund” was already illegal and Arroyo still released more than the budgeted amount in the PCSO’s operating budget.

The arguments of the Office of the Ombudsman had two interesting revelations that showed that Arroyo was the center of the alleged conspiracy. First, the approval for the release and use of the “confidential and intelligence fund” was issued in violation of LOI 1282 and COA Circular 92-835. Second, Arroyo as the then President of the Philippines had the exclusive authority to approve the release of money from the PCSO. The Ombudsman argued the following points:

• No amount of “confidential and intelligence fund” can be released and used without the approval of Arroyo.

• The approval of Arroyo is not ministerial. Given the high position that she occupied at the time, she is expected to conduct a determination of the propriety or impropriety of these requests. The approval of the requests was discretionary on her part.

• Thus, her acts of personally approving the requests made with her “OK” were done deliberately and wilfully. She approved the requests without regard to the high position that she occupied that should have obliged her to be more circumspect with her actions.

• In 2008 to 2010 Arroyo approved the release and use of additional “confidential and intelligence fund” in excess of the budget for it in the PCSO operating budget.  This was in clear violation of COA Circular 92-385.

• - When she approved the memorandum request from then PCSO General Manager Rosario Uriarte, Arroyo totally disregarded the basic budgeting principle that prior to any release of any fund, there must necessarily be a budget.

• Arroyo deliberately omitted in her consideration of the requests the fundamental principle in all financial transactions and operations of any government.

PCSO officials submitted documents that claimed that the funds withdrawn from the “confidential and intelligence funds” were used for surveillance in coordination with the NBI, military and law enforcement agents. However, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) , the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) all issued certifications that their offices did not have any records of intelligence activity coordination with or request for support for the conduct of intelligence or surveillance activities from the PCSO.  

The charges include the “amassing, acquisition and accumulation of plundered PCSO funds by Uriarte and Valencia [PCSO officials] through their unexplained disbursements coursed through fabricated documents and fictitious expenditures and which repeated, unlawful taking of government money could not have been done without Arroyo’s help.”

In addition the plunder charge report states: “Arroyo had to approve the grant and releases of confidential and intelligence fund to Uriarte to enable the latter to funnel back monies to Malacanang. How these monies were actually spent remains to be answered.”

 Former PCSO General Manager Rosario, GMA’s co-accused, remains at large although a warrant for her arrest has been issued.

The Sandiganbayan clearly believes that the evidence in the plunder charge against Arroyo is very strong because the Court has denied GMA’s petition for bail six times. However, Arroyo’s lawyer, Estelito Mendoza, has filed a petition with the Supreme Court questioning the finding by the Ombudsman and the Sandiganbayan of ‘probable cause for plunder for Arroyo. 

Essentially, Arroyo is asking the Court “to take an exception in this case and set aside its policy of non-interference” in the determination of probable cause by the Ombudsman. This is unprecedented.

We can only hope that the plunder case against Arroyo will be judged on the basis of the rule of law and not on the craftiness of legal wizards.

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