P73M plunder rap vs GMA junked

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    THE Office of the Ombudsman has thrown out criminal complaints for plunder, malversation of public funds and corruption filed in 2016 against former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, former top executives of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO), and two officials of the Commission on Audit (COA).

    Invoking the July 19, 2016 Supreme Court ruling that allowed the dismissal of the first plunder case against Arroyo and her co-defendants, Graft Investigation and Prosecution Officer III Lucielo J. Ramirez Jr. said there was no probable cause to recommend criminal indictments against the respondents.

    Ombudsman Samuel Martires approved the resolution on Sept. 25, 2019, based on the recommendation of assistant Ombudsman Marilou B. Ancheta-Mejica.

    Other than Arroyo, also cleared of any criminal liability were former PCSO general manager Rosario C. Uriarte, former PCSO Board chairman Sergio O. Valencia, Budget and Accounting Department manager Benigno B. Aguas, Treasury Department manager Gloria F. Araullo, former COA assistant commissioner Lourdes B. Dimapilis and director Nilda Plaras.

    In his 10-page resolution, Ramirez drew parallels between the P366 million plunder case that was dismissed by the SC and the P73.617 million complaint pending before the Ombudsman, noting that other than the dates and the sum involved, the two are similar in all respects.

    The first case covered the conversion of PCSO funds into Confidential and Intelligence Funds (CIFs) from 2008 to 2010 while the latter covered similar financial transactions from 2004 to 2007.

    Case records showed the PCSO, through Uriarte, repeatedly asked permission from the Office of the President for bigger budgets for CIFs. Arroyo approved all the requests by scribbling “OK” on the margins of the letter requests.

    Uriarte and Aguas had claimed the money was used to address security problems of the PCSO and the country and funded operations to counter “fraud and threat that affect integrity of operations”; “bomb threats, kidnapping, destabilization, and terrorism”; and “bilateral and security relations.”

    They said the operations were accomplished with the help of the military, the PNP and the NBI.

    However, all the intelligence chiefs of the Philippine Army, the Philippine Navy, the Philippine Air Force, the PNP, and the NBI testified that their records did not show any PCSO-related undertakings.

    A breakdown of disbursements submitted by Aguas to the COA showed the Office of the President used P244.5 million out of P366 million.

    The Ombudsman’s investigation into the second case however saw no reason to inquire where the money ended up, limiting itself to evaluating compliance based on Letter of Instructions No. 282.

    LOI No. 282 simply required details of the purposes for the requested funding; a statement on the circumstances giving rise to the request for funds; and the objectives of the expenditure program.

    In the 2016 ruling, the SC said there was no basis to proceed with the case and reversed the Sandiganbayan’s finding of probable cause.

    It likewise limited the inquiry into the conversion of close to half a billion pesos of PCSO funds into CIF by a simple evaluation if the requests complied with LOI No. 282.

    With that limited field of play, the Ombudsman found no other recourse but to dismiss the complaint.

    “Apparently, the attached requests for CIFs in this case were worded in the same way as those cited above. Following the Supreme Court’s declaration above-cited, the requests in question as compliant with LOI No. 282, thus lawful,” the Ombudsman said.

    That question out of the way, it held that “a discussion of the allegation conspiracy among respondents becomes irrelevant.”