Full audit of OWWA funds, investigation of officers sought  

Migrante International today called for a “full audit” of Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) funds and an “immediate independent investigation” of OWWA’s overseas and home-based officers in light of the Commission on Audit (COA) report that OWWA’s overseas officers failed to remit more than P21 million in collections to OWWA’s Land Bank- Manila dollar account during the last 10 years.

“A full audit of the use of OWWA funds through the years and an investigation of all OWWA officers, including its Board of Trustees, is imperative,” said Garry Martinez, Migrante International chairperson.

According to the COA report, P21 million was not remitted for periods ranging from one to 10 years. “The P21 million may just be the tip of the iceberg. This appears to have been going on for a long time because no check-and-balance of OWWA funds is in place. We also believe that overseas officers cannot have pulled this off over a span of 10 years without the complicity and tolerance of people who are higher up the food chain,” Martinez said. He demanded that the COA should immediately release the names and embassies of those involved.

Martinez said that they have long been calling for an investigation of OWWA funds, prompting Congress inquiries and several graft and plunder cases filed at the Ombudsman and Department of Justice.

He cited AFP chief of staff Roy Cimatu’s botched rescue mission during the Lebanon crisis on 2006 when the OWWA released P150 million for the repatriation of OFWs. Out of more than 6,000 OFWs, only 1,000 were repatriated by Cimatu, while the International Organization for Migration (IOM) was able to repatriate 4,000 OFWs. “When asked where the OWWA funds went, Cimatu was mum about it,” he said.

The incident prompted several Senate hearings and it was then discovered that P6.8 billion of OWWA funds were transferred to the Development Bank of the Philippines and Landbank of the Philippines (P3.4 billion each) without any consultations with the OFW sector.

Former solicitor general Atty. Frank Chavez also filed a case at the DOJ against former president Gloria Arroyo for alleged misuse, re-channel and charge to OWWA funds various projects that had nothing to do with OFWs, among them the supposed evacuation of Filipinos from Iraq, Kuwait and Afganistan in 2003. “(Since) no actual evacuation of Filipino took place, (but) where did the money go?”

Arroyo also reportedly transferred P100 Million Livelihood Development Program from the OWWA to the National Livelihood Support Fund under the Office of the President in September 2003. She and the other respondents are also accused of electoral fraud by “intending, facilitating and ordering the diversion of migrant workers’ trust funds from the OWWA to finance her campaign machinery starting 2003” with regard the release of PhilHealth cards bearing Arroyo’s name and picture as an election campaign tactic in the 2004 elections.

Martinez said that some officers of the OWWA may have escaped accountability through the years on account of Section 5, provision (h), Article III of the OWWA Omnibus Policies that stipulates that all minutes, transcripts and tapes of the OWWA are confidential and not open to the public

“If it is proven that OWWA funds were not used for the benefit of OFWs’, the whole OWWA Board of Trustees should be recalled. Erring and corrupt officials are being protected by this provision in the OOP of their creation. No need for consultations with stakeholders, they could do anything with OFWs’ money without consulting them.” ###