MANILA, APRIL 29, 2011
 (STAR) By Michael Punongbayan [Photo is loading... Former Health Secretary Francisco Duque (right) and former OWWA administrator Virgilio Angelo show photocopies of bank checks issued to Philhealth at a press conference yesterday, saying there was nothing illegal in the OWWA fund diversion. BOY SANTOS]

The Office of the Ombudsman will take over the plunder case of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo after the investigation of the Department of Justice (DOJ).

Assistant Ombudsman Evelyn Baliton said the anti-graft agency has exclusive jurisdiction over all criminal cases against government officials and employees.

“If it is within the DOJ’s mandate to initiate an investigation, and if that investigation is in the nature of fact-finding, whatever finding of that investigation will be forwarded to our office,” Baliton said yesterday.

Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said the DOJ has authority to look into the plunder complaint against Arroyo and her former officials.

Arroyo is leaving her fate to the courts, former spokesman Gary Olivar said yesterday.

“That (guilty or not) is up to the court to decide,” he said.

“Due process is there to separate the rumor from the substance of the statement, we have to rely on that, regardless if you are a former president or not.”

House of Representatives Senior Deputy Minority Leader Danilo Suarez earlier predicted the case would be dismissed by the court.

OWWA: Fund transfer legal

Administrator Carmelita Dimzon of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) believes the transfer of the agency’s fund to the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) has legal basis.

Speaking to reporters in Lingayen, Pangasinan, Dimzon said that it is unfair to link the agency to the plunder case against Arroyo and three of her former officials.

“When the news hit the papers, we immediately got the papers from our files and we saw that the transfer of the P530 million that attorney Frank Chavez was questioning was all in order,” she said.

“The fund previously managed by OWWA for Medicare was transferred to PhilHealth because PhilHealth is taking care of the health benefits of OFWs.”

Dimzon said no anomaly is involved in the fund transfer as far as the OWWA is concerned.

“No one is involved in the anomaly, as far we are concerned, none,” she said.

Duque: OWWA losing money

OWWA was losing a lot of money to fraudulent health insurance claims prior to the transfer of its funds to PhilHealth in 2005, a former PhilHealth president said yesterday.

Civil Service Commission chairman Francisco Duque III said that was one reason why PhilHealth took over OWWA’s Medicare finances pursuant to Republic Act 7875, which requires that the government should only have one insurance system.

Duque told The STAR former OWWA chair Patricia Sto. Tomas and Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz, a former OWWA board member, have confirmed the leakages.

Duque, who was PhilHealth president when the P530-million fund transfer was made, said between P150,000 to P250,000 was released to fictitious health care benefit claimants sometime in 2003 or 2004.

“They investigated and found fictitious addresses and names or persons that were nonexistent,” he said.

Duque said the health insurance claims spoke of catastrophic illnesses like cancer that needed immediate financial assistance.

“They were bleeding from the fraudulent claims, it appears that there were many occasions,” he said.

Duque assured overseas Filipino workers that OWWA Medicare funds are being used properly for health care insurance.

“You can ask for records,” he said. “The funds are used for nothing else but your healthcare. Don’t worry. Your funds are being taken care of by PhilHealth Insurance Corp.”

As early as 1997, PhilHealth has been pushing for the transfer of OWWA insurance funds, Duque said.

Baldoz: Fund transfer legal

Labor Secretary Baldoz vouched yesterday for the legality of the transfer of some P530 million in OWWA funds to PhilHealth.

“I am a signatory to the resolution allowing the release of funds, but there is a legal basis for the transfer of funds from OWWA to PhilHealth,” she said.

Baldoz said the OWWA board approved the release of the funds based on an executive order of President Ramos in 1994 requiring insurance coverage for all OFWs.

An executive order issued by President Arroyo also provided for the transfer of OWWA funds to PhilHealth, she added.

Baldoz said the funds transferred to PhilHealth from OWWA should be used solely to provide health insurance coverage for OFWs.

“The guideline is very clear that the fund is solely for the insurance coverage of OFWs, and if ever the fund was used for other purposes we are no longer aware of it and only PhilHealth can explain the actual disbursement,” she said.

Lacierda: Palace not involved

Malacañang is not involved in the filing of the plunder case against Arroyo, presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said yesterday.

“It is not true that Malacañang is behind the plunder case against GMA,” he said.

“In fact, we haven’t seen a copy of the complaint (filed by former Solicitor General Frank Chavez).

“So we cannot comment, whether it has loopholes or not. I guess that would be a natural defense of those who are on the side of (the) accused.” – With Eva Visperas, Mayen Jaymalin, Paolo Romero, Delon Porcalla


DoJ not ordered to take charge of Gloria’s plunder raps — Noynoy By Aytch S. de la Cruz and Angie M. Rosales 04/29/2011

Malacañang yesterday feigned ignorance over Justice Secretary Leila de Lima’s move to claim jurisdiction over the plunder charges filed recently by former Solicitor General Francisco “Frank” Chavez against former President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Arroyo.

Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said De Lima was acting on her own and did not receive any order from Aquino when she decided to take over the case filed by Chavez instead of having Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez, an Aquino foe, take on the case, since government officials and employees’ cases are usually lodged in the Office of the Ombudsman.

De Lima reportedly also wants the plunder cases against Arroyo pending in the Ombudsman’s Office transferred to the Department of Justice (DoJ).

Lacierda issued the statement following his denial of House Deputy Minority Leader Danilo Suarez’s allegation that Malacañang is backing Chavez’s plunder case against Arroyo and her previous Cabinet executives.

“We haven’t seen the complaint of Mr. Frank Chavez against those whom he charged (with plunder). So we cannot comment on whether it is filled with loopholes or not. I guess that would be a natural defense of those who are on the side of those who were accused,” Lacierda said, reacting to Suarez’s claims.

But while maintaining that De Lima was not ordered by anyone from Malacañang to get into the plunder picture, Lacierda implied that there is nothing wrong with the Department of Justice’s (DoJ) involvement similar to how she responded to the tax evasion case filed by the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) against Arroyo’s eldest son, Ang Galing Pinoy partylist Rep. Juan Miguel ‘Mikey’ Arroyo.

“It’s her (De Lima’s) decision to do so. She can very well explain why she did it. It’s a typical (move)…in the same manner that she decided to form a panel to investigate the tax charges against Congressman Mikey Arroyo,” Lacierda told a press briefing.

“I don’t know specifically what it means by her taking over the case. I guess she would form another panel. She cannot personally handle that given the volume of work that Secretary De Lima has to attend to. I don’t think she would personally handle the investigation,” he added.

Lacierda said they are yet to speak with De Lima on the arrangement of the DoJ investigation given the jurisdictional issues she may have with the Office of the Ombudsman.

Malacañang also expressed no apprehension on the potential involvement of Labor and Employment Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz in Chavez’s complaint on the alleged misuse of the Overseas Workers’ Welfare Administration (OWWA) fund by the previous administration.

According to Chavez, he may include Baldoz as among the respondents in his complaint if warranted since she was Arroyo’s Philippine Overseas Employment Agency (POEA) administrator when the alleged anomaly transpired.

Lacierda said he was able to speak personally with Baldoz and she told him of her willingness to cooperate and divulge everything she knows, should the DoJ panel invite her for a possible inquest, further implying that this particular development was not enough for the President to raise questions against her credibility.

He nonetheless mentioned that Baldoz herself will prepare a briefer for the President to explain how things went during her stint as POEA chief when the alleged malversation of funds at the OWWA supposedly took place.

Also named as respondents in Chavez’s 23-page plunder complain apart from the former Chief Executive are former PhilHealth Insurance Corp. chief and incumbent Civil Service Commission chair Francisco Duque III, former OWWA administrator Virgilio Angelo, and former Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo who was Arroyo’s executive secretary when the alleged fund misuse was carried out.

Arroyo is currently out of the country and has not issued any statement on this new plunder complaint leveled against her by Chavez, with her spokesman saying that she has yet to read the contents of a copy of the suit.

For Sen. Sergio Osmena III, his view is that the former president deserves to be charged with plunder.

The senator however, in his appearance before the Kapihan sa Senado weekly news forum yesterday said he has yet to read the charge sheet filed by Chavez against Arroyo over the alleged plunder of the P530 million OWWA funds in 2004, but also said that such suits should no longer come as a surprise.

“I am not surprised. She certainly deserves having a hundred more plunder cases filed against her.

“I think the Filipino people have realized what an (allegedly) corrupt person she was. How corrupt her administration was, so I am not surprised that it happened. I am not surprised that there are more (plunder cases) that are going to be filed,” he said.

Last Wednesday, Sen. Panfilo Lacson disclosed that he has a chestful of evidence in his possession that can bolster Arroyo’s alleged involvement in the OWWA fund scam and other corruption cases.

“I still have many documents (against Arroyo),” Lacson told reporters on the sidelines of the inauguration of the Manila-Cavite Toll Expressway Extension Project that was also graced by President Aquino.

Meanwhile, Sen.Manuel “Lito” Lapid admitted having received his alleged share in the P728-million fertilizer fund, supposedly diverted by the previous administration to the campaign kitty of former president during the 2004 presidential elections.

But in acknowledging this fact which now costs him an investigation by the Office of the Ombudsman, Lapid claimed that there was no irregularity committed in his availing of the said fund while he was still Pampanga governor.

In a statement issued by his office yesterday, the senator said that the P5-million worth of fertilizer allotted to him then “was utilized by the targeted beneficiaries after the 2004 elections and duly-liquidated in accordance with the law.”

“Records from the provincial government of Pampanga will readily show that the procurement process was duly observed considering that the Commission on Audit (CoA) had no adverse findings with regard to this transaction,” he said.

What Lapid failed to explain was why he owned up to receiving the said fund only now, when the issue on the fertilizer fund scam was investigated by the Senate as early as 2005 and in 2007.

Lapid was then already a member of the Senate, then the 13th Congress.

Lapid, who ran and won the Senate seat in 2004 under the banner of the Arroyo administration’s umbrella party K-4 at that time, indicated the possibility of the inclusion of his name in the report as related to the impending impeachment trial of Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez before the upper chamber.

“I would not want to think that this has something to do with the impeachment trial of Gutierrez where we will be among those who will sit as senator-judges,” he said in an issued statement.

According to the report, the then governor was among the 180 alleged proponents listed by then Department of Agriculture (DA) Undersecretary Jocelyn “Joc-Joc” Bolante as beneficiaries of the farmer’s fund where the Province of Pampanga was allocated the amount of P5 million.

Lapid and other government officials are subject to a “separate investigation” being conducted by the Ombudsman after it issued a resolution recommending the filing of charges against two former lower house members, two former governors and a number of incumbent and former DA officials as well as private individuals.

The senator said he welcomes any investigation on the said matter but denied any alleged fund misuse.

He, however, allayed fears that the report on those currently subject of an ongoing investigation by the Omudsman, which include 11 incumbent members of the House of Representatives, might influence his disposition of the case against Gutierrez, sitting as a judge in the case.

“Let’s just allow them to do their job and conduct a fair and honest investigation,” he said.

Lapid remains confident that the Office of the Ombudsman will exercise impartiality in the said investigation.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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