When Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales released her office’s joint resolution on the Malampaya Fund case the other day, the omission of one name among the list of the many conspirators indicted was conspicuous. Former president Gloria Arroyo, who had issued Executive Order No. 848 which allowed the use of part of the fund, was not among those charged with 2 counts of plunder, 97 counts of graft, and 97 counts of malversation.
But two of her Cabinet secretaries were, Rolando Andaya of budget and Nasser Pangandaman of agrarian reform, as well as alleged pork barrel scam mastermind Janet Lim Napoles and conspirator-turned-state’s-witness Ruby Tuason.
The resolution asserted that the National Bureau of Investigation “failed to prove” that Arroyo as well as three other officials had conspired to divert the fund illegally. In a chance interview after the resolution was released, Morales explained to reporters that “There was no nexus [connecting Arroyo] to the alleged commission of the crime.”
This is a particularly bitter pill to swallow for those Filipinos who knew how tightly Arroyo had run her administration, from 2001 to 2010. Indeed, the scale of the plunder in the Malampaya case—P900 million, distributed in four tranches in less than a month, using a massive fake operation that involved two Cabinet departments—suggests that either the famously hands-on technocrat-politician was in on it or had completely lost control of her administration.
The Ombudsman found that a total of P900 million was illegally diverted to a dozen nongovernment organizations in late 2009, under the guise of providing assistance to farmers affected by typhoons “Ondoy” and “Pepeng.” In its press statement, the Office of the Ombudsman noted that:
“After the receipt of the checks, the NGO representatives issued official receipts and fake liquidation documents such as reports of disbursements, delivery reports, certificates of acceptance, certificates of project completion, inspection and acceptance reports, fund utilization reports, independent auditor’s reports, reports of disbursements by external accountant and lists of beneficiaries.
“Ombudsman investigators found that the documents were all fictitious as there were no deliveries of agricultural kits or packages. Respondents also manufactured the lists of farmer-beneficiaries and forged the signatures of the recipients.”
In other words, it was the template Napoles used in the pork barrel scam: Real money was siphoned off through fake projects. What boggles the mind is the speed with which the entire scam was conceptualized and then consummated: Ondoy struck the Philippines in late September. In a month’s time, the executive order facilitating the use of part of the Malampaya Fund was issued. In another month, the first of the four tranches was released. By Dec. 29, 2009, a mere three months after Ondoy, the last and biggest of the four tranches, a P400-million allocation, was released.
For her part, working with the 12 NGOs, Napoles had her staff draft letters requesting financial assistance from 97 local governments.
The Ombudsman found that, “by respondents’ own overt acts, they showed their undue interest in the immediate release of the funds … regardless of whether there was compliance with applicable laws or rules governing such disbursements.”
Arroyo’s counsel welcomed the decision to drop the charges against her. “It’s the perfect way to end the year and to start the new one,” lawyer Laurence Arroyo said. He added: “We hope that we have seen the last of these frivolous complaints against the former president.” But while the case put together by the NBI may have been found lacking, it was certainly not frivolous. Indeed, Morales noted that, even as the joint resolution on the case has been released, additional fact-finding is ongoing. Tuason, a state’s witness in the other Napoles cases, has alleged that her brother’s contact in Malacañang was the lawyer Jesus Santos, who is closely associated with Arroyo’s husband.
“Let’s see what will happen,” Morales said.
“If the investigation of [the Field Investigation Office] will point to the liability of Mrs. Arroyo, there’s nothing that will prevent the office to consider indicting her.”
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