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Caught ‘red-handed’?

/ 12:36 AM January 22, 2012

Finally, they may have found the smoking gun. After continuous investigations into all sorts of wrongdoing allegedly perpetrated by former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, the Senate blue ribbon committee has finally found a case that apparently directly links her to the alleged crime.

On Wednesday, the committee sought to charge Arroyo and former Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office general manager Rosario Uriarte with plunder and technical malversation for the misuse of some P325 million during the last three years of the Arroyo presidency. Channeled into confidential and intelligence funds (CIF), the P325 million is notably bigger than the intelligence funds allotted to such agencies as the Philippine Navy, the Philippine Army, the National Bureau of Investigation and the Department of National Defense.

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When grilled by the committee, Uriarte said that the documents facilitating the allocation of the ridiculous CIF requests went through Malacañang from 2008 to 2010, and the documents bearing either Arroyo’s signature or her initials were signed by the former president right in front of Uriarte.

Thus wittingly or unwittingly, Uriarte provided a direct link between the millions of pesos in allegedly misused funds and the beleaguered former chief executive, something that couldn’t be as closely established in the other probes.

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Three plunder cases have been previously filed against Arroyo, arising from the alleged misuse of P325 million in PCSO funds. On July 12, 2011, representatives from Bayan Muna filed a plunder case with the Ombudsman. On July 26, 2011, Jaime Regalario of Kilusang Makabayang Ekonomiya, retired Brig. Gen. Danilo Lim and Risa Hontiveros of Akbayan followed suit. In December 2011, the PCSO filed another complaint of plunder.

The three complaints include former Arroyo Cabinet and PCSO officials among those charged. Current PCSO chair Margarita Juico told Inquirer editors that Arroyo and her cohorts “ran (PCSO) to the ground,” and saddled them with P4 billion in debt.

But it is this new development that may finally stick. The blue ribbon committee report called the allocation of the funds “grossly excessive and disproportionate to the claimed reasons for their release.” The committee added that Uriarte would not have been able to acquire or move such an enormous amount without the “indispensable participation” of Arroyo. The report directed the  Ombudsman to charge Arroyo and Uriarte with “technical malversation” for using the CIF to purchase relief goods and as blood money for overseas Filipino workers in the Middle East.

This particular finding raised a lot of eyebrows although the PCSO is traditionally among the government agencies tasked with providing much-needed relief and medical services to impoverished Filipinos. After all, the PCSO’s annual budget for intelligence from 2000 was only P5 million, and this was used to run down, say, people who were using the PCSO-donated ambulances in an unauthorized manner or selling fake lotto tickets.

But Uriarte expanded the usage of the CIF, and her requests for more funds escalated with each year, with the documents bearing the notation of “By special authority of the President.” The CIF grew from P75 million in 2008, P90 million in 2009 and an unbelievable P160 million in 2010. Where did all this money go?

According to Uriarte, the funds were spent addressing “bomb threats, kidnapping, destabilization and terrorism” and for “bilateral and security relation expenses.” What business did PCSO have in dealing with these issues? The blue ribbon committee found Uriarte’s defense of her actions alarming and the reasons behind the spending to be highly spurious: “The lack of detailed liquidation documents and receipts and the facts and circumstances surrounding the release of these excessive amounts of money allow a reasonably prudent person to believe and conclude that the crime of plunder was committed.”

In defending herself, Uriarte may have given government investigators the piece of the puzzle they needed. Arroyo may be dealing with a battery of other charges, including electoral fraud, but this blue ribbon report seemingly places her, so to speak, at the scene of the crime, “red-handed,” at that.

Now it behooves the Ombudsman to follow through on the committee recommendations and findings forthwith, for the acts that the former president is being accused of here constitute  a crime that truly betrayed the poorest among the Filipino people.

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TAGS: Editorial, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, Graft and Corruption, ombudsman, opinion, PCSO, plunder, Roasario Uriarte, Ssenate Blue Ribbon committee
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