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 Ombudsman probes PCSO fund anomaly

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PostSubject: Ombudsman probes PCSO fund anomaly   Sat Jul 09, 2011 1:37 am

Manila, Philippines - The Office of the Ombudsman
yesterday started its own investigation into the fund mess involving
former officials of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO).
Acting Ombudsman Orlando Casimiro said they created a special panel to conduct a fact-finding probe into the allegations.
He said the investigation would focus on how PCSO funds were allegedly misused by past officials.

Casimiro ordered the probe in the wake of revelations made during
Senate Blue Ribbon committee hearings on the PCSO fund anomalies.
Casimiro said the Ombudsman decided to step in following the
complaint filed by two advertisers against former PCSO public relations
manager Manuel Garcia.
Alexander Quisumbing and Ludovico Yuseco filed charges against Garcia
for allegedly pocketing kickbacks from advertisement placements of the
PCSO in radio programs, television shows and newspapers.
Both respectively claimed they were forced by Garcia to pay P16.1
million and P12.61 million to secure their advertising services.
The Senate began its investigation into the PCSO fund mess on
allegations that some personalities, including several bishops, allied
with the previous administration were given favors through its charity
funds.
The hearings also uncovered the supposed intervention made by former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo into the fund mess.
Former PCSO general manager Rosario Uriarte revealed on Thursday that
the agency had misused hundreds of millions of pesos, mostly for
dubious intelligence activities, in a span of three years during the
Arroyo administration.
Uriarte said Arroyo had approved her request on Jan. 4, 2010 to
divert 20 percent of the agency’s public relations budget or a minimum
of P150 million to intelligence funds/confidential funds.
Uriarte also told the Senate that portions of the PCSO’s intelligence
fund were diverted to relief operations and “blood money” donations to
Filipino workers facing death sentences in the Middle East.
Uriarte testified that she personally saw Arroyo approve and sign her proposals.

Watch them
Sen. Francis Escudero urged the Department of Justice (DOJ) to take note of the revelations made by Uriarte before the Senate.
Escudero said the DOJ should seriously look into Uriarte’s testimonies, considering her statements were given under oath.
“I leave it with the DOJ to decide on the matter but I hope they will
consider the merits and the weight of the testimonies,” he said.
Escudero said the PCSO has been used as a promoter of patronage
politics by the past administration in the use and distribution of its
charity fund.
Escudero said Arroyo and Uriarte could be criminally liable for malversation of public funds.
“At the very least, they could be charged with malversation of public
funds given that they used government money for a purpose, however
noble, other than what the fund was intended for,” he said.
He said the element of “personal gain,” notwithstanding the amount of
funds allegedly misused, was not shown nor proven during the hearing in
order to classify the offense as plunder.
The Bureau of Immigration, on the other hand, placed Uriarte and Garcia on its watch list.
Immigration spokesperson Antonette Bucasas-Mangrobang said Uriarte
and Garcia would be barred from leaving the country for the next 60 days
unless there is permission from the DOJ.
Mangrobang said Justice Secretary Leila de Lima made the request to
place the two former PCSO officials on its watch list to ensure their
appearance before the Senate during the investigation.

Criminal liability
Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, on the other hand, said they
would not ask Arroyo, now Pampanga representative, to appear before the
committee and testify on the issue.
“She is a member of Congress. We cannot ask her to appear in our hearing out of parliamentary courtesy,” he said.
Enrile also declined to comment on the possible criminal liability of Arroyo over the PCSO fund mess.
“I don’t know whether she’s liable. I cannot say yes or no,” he said.
Enrile though remarked that he was not satisfied with the statements of Uriarte.
“I don’t believe her. Her statements were contradictory. Our
Constitution forbids the use of appropriated funds for purposes other
than those for which they were specifically appropriated. They diverted
intelligence funds to pay blood money and for assistance to
calamity-stricken areas. That should not be the case. If she is charged,
she can go to jail,” he said.
Enrile noted Uriarte had asked Arroyo for intelligence funds.
“Of course, the approving authority was the President. The President
probably relied on their representation. But there are a lot of things
that have to be unearthed first before you can pin down the
responsibility of the approving authority,” he said.
Enrile stressed the Senate still has to determine the extent of Uriarte’s liability.
“I don’t know (at this point). We will start with her, because she
was the one who asked for it. She is the one who disbursed it. She is
the one that created the project. Who else will answer for it? She is
the only one,” he said.
The Senate investigation that began Tuesday yielded revelations that a
number of bishops had received vehicles during the previous
administration financed by the agency’s charity funds.
The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) is
expected to issue a statement on the allegations that the Arroyo
administration may have violated the principle of separation of Church
and state by approving the donation of vehicles to some bishops through
PCSO.
The PCSO is mandated by virtue of special laws to contribute funds to
the Philippine Sports Commission, Commission on Higher Education,
Comprehensive and Integrated Shelter and Urban Development Financing
Program, the Department of Foreign Affairs, among other national
agencies.
The PCSO also allocates five percent to local government units from
the total sales of online lotto outlets operating within their
jurisdictions, including a documentary stamp tax from the donations.
Under the Migrant Workers Act of 1995, P150 million shall be funded
from the proceeds of lotto draws taken from the Charity Fund for the
Congressional Migrant Workers Scholarship Fund.
There is also Executive Order 201 mandating the allocation of
P1-billion standby fund for the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS)
awareness and health promotion campaign, while another P1 billion is on
standby for the operations and programs of the Philippine Drug
Enforcement Agency (PDEA).

‘Blood money’
The Philippine National Police (PNP) also receives allocation from
the PCSO for intelligence funds, according to police spokesman Chief
Superintendent Agrimero Cruz Jr.
Cruz said he knew the PCSO was providing intelligence funds to the police regional offices.
Cruz, however, said he had no personal knowledge of the PCSO giving intelligence allowance to the PNP on the national level.
Cruz said he knew that the funds provided by the PCSO were used to
finance operations against illegal gambling, particularly in the rural
areas.
DFA Undersecretary for Migrant Workers Affairs Esteban Conejos Jr.
also said the PCSO allocated close to P15 million as blood money payment
for Filipinos sentenced to death in Saudi Arabia.
Conejos stressed the DFA was not involved in the transfer of funds,
denying Uriarte’s claims during the Senate hearing that he received
funds to pay the blood money.
“I deny categorically receiving any amount from Ms. Uriarte and from
PCSO on this matter,” Conejos told a press briefing at the DFA.
Conejos said the policy of the government is to exhaust all legal remedies to save any Filipino worker from execution.
He said the payment of blood money could be resorted to under the
Shariah or Saudi law if the offended party agrees to forgive the accused
in exchange for payment of damages and spare him from execution.
The PCSO, for its part, announced it would make its records available to former officials facing the Senate inquiry.
PCSO director Aleta Tolentino said former officials who want certain
records for their reference may just coordinate with her office for the
release of the documents.
“Copies of the official documents are available upon request,” she said.
Tolentino made the statement after former PCSO officials claimed
before the Senate hearing that they no longer have access to some
documents vital to the investigation.
PCSO general manager Jose Ferdinand Rojas II, however, assured all
former officials that they would be given copies of documents,
particularly those involving the grant of vehicles to bishops and other
personalities.
Tolentino said former officials could also get copies of their
financial transactions, including resolutions, which were the bases of
the grant of vehicles and other financial assistance by the agency.
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Ombudsman probes PCSO fund anomaly

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