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Friday, October 4, 2013

Philippine ex-president Arroyo charged with plunder

Philippines' former President Gloria Arroyo, three of her Cabinet secretaries and 20 others were charged with plunder in the Office of the Ombudsman on Thursday for allegedly stealing 900 million pesos (US$20.8 million) from the Malampaya Fund meant for impoverished victims of back-to-back storms in 2009.

In a letter-complaint, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima and the National Bureau of Investigation recommended that a preliminary investigation be conducted to determine if a case merited trial in the Sandiganbayan against the 24 who have allegedly diverted and “stolen” the fund coursed through the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) in a scheme arranged by Janet Lim-Napoles.

Napoles, the alleged mastermind in the 10-billion peso pork barrel scam, is among those named respondent with Arroyo, now a Pampanga representative, who is under hospital arrest for plunder in the alleged misuse of funds of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office.

Also charged were Arroyo’s Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita, Agrarian Reform Secretary Nasser Pangandaman and his undersecretary Narciso Nieto, Budget Secretary and now Camarines Sur Rep. Rolando Andaya Jr., and his undersecretary Mario Relampagos, and Candaba Mayor Rene Maglanque.

De Lima said the lack of specificity in Arroyo’s and Ermita’s identification of the authorised purpose by which the Department of Budget and Management could access the Malampaya Fund resulted in almost discretionary, if not arbitrary, granting of implementing agency requests for millions of pesos in funds by the DBM.

This, De Lima said, happened without the submission of any agency work or development plan showing that the funds will actually be used for the purpose authorised by the president.

“This leniency control displayed by the then president in the use of and access to an essentially presidential discretionary fund made possible the plunder of such fund, either intentionally or through gross inexcusable negligence,” De Lima added.

Also included in the charge sheet were DAR officials led by Teresita Panlilio, then director of finance and management administration office and presently officer in charge of the Presidential Agrarian Reform Council secretariat; and Angelita Cacananta, Nilda Baui, Dominador Sison Jr. and Ronald Venancio.

The private respondents included Napoles, her relatives, presidents and staff of her nongovernment organisations (NGOs).

They were Evelyn de Leon; Ruby Tuason; Jesus Castillo, driver; Dalangpan Sang Amin Utod Kag Kasimanwa Edn.; Lilian Espanol, househelp; Saganang Buhay sa Atin Foundation Inc.; Genevieve Uy, JLN’s family friend; Kasaganahan para sa Magsasaka Foundation Inc.; Ronald John Lim, JLN’s nephew, Ginintuang Alay sa Magsasaka Foundation Inc.; Eulogio Rodriguez, JLN Corp. driver; Lorna Ramirez, wife of JLN Corp. security/driver, Ginintuang Pangkabuhayan Foundation Inc.; Ronald Francisco Lim, JLN’s brother; Micro Agri Business Citizens Initiative Foundation Inc.; Simplicio Gumafelix, JLN Corp. administrative officer, Karangyaan para sa Magbubukid Foundation Inc.; and John Raymund de Asis, JLN Corp. security/driver; Kaupdanan para sa Mangunguna Foundation Inc.

Biggest cut to Arroyo cousin

In a press conference, De Lima said that the whistle-blowers, all employees of Lim, identified Pangandaman as having received a 75-million pesos kickback in cash from Napoles and through bank withdrawal care of Manlaque; Panlilio, 14 million pesos received in cash from Napoles and through a bank withdrawal; Nieto, 6 million pesos received through bank withdrawal c/o De Leon; and Tuason, 242.775 million pesos received through bank withdrawals for a still “unidentified principal.”

Tuason’s husband is a cousin of Mike Arroyo, husband of the former president.

In all, the identified kickbacks and their receivers amounted to 337,775,000 pesos. The complaint did not say if Arroyo, Ermita or Andaya received cuts from the deal. Arroyo was identified as a “conspirator” in the misuse of the Malampaya Fund for her alleged negligence.

“The rest of the DBM and DAR officials participated and conspired in this scheme by facilitating the irregular release of the 900 million pesos from the Malampaya Fund to the DAR and the processing of the check payments to Napoles NGOs despite the fact that all documents pertaining to the award of said projects were manufactured and faked and the projects were all ghost projects with zero delivery,” De Lima said.

De Lima also said the signatures of 97 city and municipal mayors where the projects were identified were all faked, including the memorandum of agreements and other documents.

“The mayors’ signatures were faked but the signatures of officials of DAR were genuine,” she stressed.

De Lima said the liquidation documents prepared by Napoles’ staff were manufactured as these again contained the faked signatures of mayors.

The schemes became possible mainly because of the issuance of Executive Order No. 848 on Oct 13, 2009, by Arroyo authorising the DBM “to release funds in such amount as may be necessary” from the Malampaya Special Fund (DOE SAGF-151) created under Presidential Decree No. 910 to implementing agencies for “whatever purposes as may be authorised by the president.”

On the same date, De Lima said, Ermita sent a letter informing Andaya of the former President’s approval of Ermita’s request for authorisation to use the Malampaya Fund “in such amounts as may be necessary,” for the relief operations, rehabilitation, reconstruction and other works and services to areas affected by natural calamities, without, however, citing the EO as legal basis.

De Lima said the letter did not specify what amount from the fund representing the government share in the revenues from the operation of gas and oil fields off Palawan province was to be allotted to DAR for release to local government units and farmer-beneficiaries in agrarian reform communities hit by Tropical Storms “Ondoy” and “Pepeng” in 2009.

The NBI used as proofs the testimonies and documentary evidence of the whistle-blowers who are former JLN Corp. employees led by Benhur Luy, affidavits of former local executives, documents of Napoles’ NGOs from the Securities and Exchange Commission, disbursement vouchers, and DAR documents on the Malampaya Fund projects such as the Malampaya Fund special allotment release order (Saro).

Among the irregularities noted in the processing of the transactions were the selection of the Napoles NGOs that were incorporated only in 2009 (four), 2008 (seven) and 2004 (one); the presidents of NGOs were either JLN Corp. employees or Napoles’ household staff, relatives and family friends.

The NBI said Napoles’ NGOs had been allowed by the DAR officials involved to implement an average of seven projects each almost simultaneously, in flagrant disregard of the Commission on Audit circular. Napoles is under detention in connection with the alleged illegal detention of Luy.

In addition to the plunder charge, some of the accused were also recommended for prosecution for violations of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt practices Act, Code of Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees, and the Revised Penal Code.
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