BY EVANGELINE DE VERA
THE Department of Justice has recommended the filing of technical malversation charges against former president and now Rep. Gloria Arroyo and three of her Cabinet members for alleged misuse and diversion of some P551 million in funds intended for Filipinos working overseas.
In a 13-page resolution, a panel of prosecutors led by Senior State Prosecutor Theodore Villanueva found probable cause to indict Arroyo, former executive Secretary Alberto Romulo, former Overseas Workers Welfare Administration administrator Virgilio Angelo, and former Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) president Francisco Duque III.
Considering that Duque is incumbent chair of the Civil Service Commission, and is thus an impeachable officer, the DOJ referred his case to the Office of the Ombudsman for review and possible initiation of impeachment proceedings.
The panel cleared incumbent and former members of the OWWA’s board of trustees of any criminal liabilities.
The DOJ resolution will still undergo review by the Ombudsman which will make a final determination on whether there is sufficient ground to file a case at the Sandiganbayan.
Prosecutors found merit in the complaint filed by former solicitor general Francisco Chavez who alleged that Arroyo and her co-respondents conspired in the misuse of OWWA funds.
However, the panel found no evidence of other crimes being claimed by Chavez, such as plunder, violation of the Omnibus Election Code, violation of the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials, and qualified theft.
The panel said Arroyo, Romulo, Angelo and Duque “knowingly acted in complicity with each other in proposing, requesting, approving, implementing and releasing OWWA funds for purposes other than for which they were intended.”
The DOJ panel explained there is technical malversation when a public officer uses funds allotted to him for a purpose different from which the funds were appropriated for by law or ordinance.
Chavez, in his plunder complaint, alleged that OWWA funds amounting to $293,500 (roughly P16.5 million) were misused by Arroyo and her three Cabinet officials to finance the acquisition of several vehicles by several diplomatic posts in the Middle East, for humanitarian assistance to Iraq, and to enhance her 2004 presidential bid.
In all these transactions, Chavez said, Arroyo gave her imprimatur as evidenced by a number of memorandum orders addressed to Romulo, who made the requests for release of funds from OWWA, as well as in executive orders for the transfer of some P530 million OWWA Medicare funds to PhilHealth, for partisan purposes.
The DOJ agreed, noting that the acts of disbursing OWWA funds to finance activities of the Philippine post in Kuwait, to purchase vehicles and for the stockpiling of diplomatic posts could not be said to have served the exclusive welfare and benefit of overseas workers as intended by the law on OWWA funds.
“There was no legal basis given for the proposal and approval for the immediate transfer and release of OWWA funds for the purposes intended. There was likewise no clear justification as to why the OWWA funds and not the funds from the other government agencies such as the Department of Foreign Affairs were tapped and released,” the resolution said.
Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said Malacañang supports the DOJ in its decision to file a technical malversation case instead of plunder.
“We will rely on the assessment of the Department of Justice, the prosecutors who are reviewing the case. It would not do us any good if we file a case which will not merit us a conviction,” he said. – With Jocelyn Montemayor