Pea-brained plunder prattle

Mad that Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was freed on bail on a clearly trumped-up electoral sabotage case built entirely on the claim of a massacre suspect, President Aquino pivoted: “But there is a case pending before the Sandiganbayan for plunder, and plunder is not bailable.”

There you have it straight from the horse’s mouth. This isn’t about accountability, certainly not about justice. It’s a President ruthlessly using all his resources he can wield, all the technicalities he can find just to jail his predecessor.

Read the charge sheet against Arroyo—really prattle of sweeping accusations—and the only conclusion one can arrive at is: Never mind if the charges are obviously cooked up, the aim is to keep her in jail. Never mind even if the court acquits her, after many years the case is pending.

What’s the “plunder” charge?  That Arroyo and the directors of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office from 2008 to 2010 “accumulated and/or acquired ill-gotten wealth in the amount of” P366 million.

Where did they get that P366-million figure? That’s the total “confidential intelligence funds” from 2008 to 2010 reported in PCSO books, and used for such operations as countering sweepstakes scams and jueteng operations.  A significant amount of this, according to former PCSO chair Manuel Morato, was used for paying the so-called “blood-money” that saved the lives of several overseas Filipino workers accused of homicide in certain Mideast countries.

Quite idiotically and appallingly, the Ombudsman alleges that all these confidential intelligence funds went into the pockets of the accused—without however even presenting a single instance of misuse of the funds, or an iota of evidence.

That allegation had already been proven totally wrong. The Commission on Audit chair during that period, Reynaldo Villar, officially informed the Ombudsman eight months ago when the case was filed there that the PCSO officials had submitted the required documents showing the funds’ legitimate use, validated by the COA’s auditors.

However, in the Ombudsman’s docility to Mr. Aquino (or perhaps, just her officers’ dimwittedness), they included COA chair Villar and senior auditor Nilda Plaras, who audited the PCSO funds, among those accused of plunder.  That has shocked not only the COA but also the entire government bureaucracy.

No evidence was presented, no specific accusation was made that the two COA officials connived with Arroyo or the PCSO board for the issuance of the audit clearances.  If they found nothing wrong in the use of the funds, the Ombudsman argued, they’re therefore part of the plunder conspiracy.

That’s a big blunder for this plunder charge as the Ombudsman is disputing the integrity of the COA, without even having her own auditors study the PCSO documents. Mr. Aquino and his Ombudsman have in effect declared that the audits of the COA—the sole, independent body vested by the Constitution with the authority to audit government funds—are worthless.

If the case against the PCSO officials is obviously baseless, that against Arroyo is utterly imbecilic.

She is accused of “raiding the public treasury” when what she did was merely to approve the request for the use of additional intelligence funds, which is authorized by law.  Furthermore, it was the PCSO management—and not the former President—that undertook the actual disbursement and monitoring of all confidential intelligence funds.

She didn’t even release the funds; neither did these pass her hands or the Office of the President, since the PCSO is an autonomous government corporation. If the Ombudsman’s pea-brained argument is followed, then all the members of Congress who approve the government budget, as well as the budget secretary and department heads who actually disburse the moneys, would be liable either for graft or plunder in any case that is diverted to corruption by any official.

Moreover, what the Plunder Law requires is proof that the “ill-gotten” wealth (of at least P50 million) acquired through graft has ended up in the bank accounts of the accused.

Former President Joseph Estrada was convicted of plunder not just because former governor Chavit Singson and others testified that he had received part of the tobacco excise tax and jueteng protection money. He was convicted because the prosecution presented over two dozen bank officials such as Clarissa Ocampo who submitted to the court photocopies of over 100 cancelled checks in accounts where the ill-gotten wealth were deposited, and identified to be Estrada’s, totaling P4.1 billion.

In contrast, the P366 million the Ombudsman is bandying about is not what Arroyo and the PCSO officials allegedly pocketed. These are simply the total intelligence funds reported in PCSO’s books disbursed over three years. There is not even any specific allegation that Arroyo diverted any of these to her bank accounts, only that she approved such funds.

There are no Singsons or Ocampos, no bank documents, in this plunder charge. Quite hilariously, the main witnesses cited in the charge sheet are the complainants themselves, who are Mr. Aquino’s on-call rent-a-crusader operatives: pink party Akbayan’s Risa Hontiveros and deputy customs commissioner Danilo Lim,  both of whom are begging Mr. Aquino to be included in  his senatorial slate next year.

Why are they witnesses? Because they watched on TV the playing-to-the-gallery Senate hearings that investigated the PCSO last year. Their corroborative witness: Antonina Barros, head of the Senate’s records and archives division.

Only this kind of President deluded that he is God’s gift to the country that he can trample on the nation’s laws just to jail his predecessor could ever order the pursuit of this phony, preposterous plunder charge.