GMA sued for plunder of OWWA funds

Global alliance of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) and families together with former solicitor-general Atty. Frank Chavez filed a P530 million plunder case against former president and current Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo before the Department of Justice (DOJ) today.

The present plunder complaint for the misuse of OWWA funds is similar to the case initially filed by Atty. Chavez in 2004, with the Office of the Ombudsman under the Administration of Merceditas Navarro-Gutierrez. The case was “closed and terminated” in 2007 on grounds of insufficient basis and evidence for said complaint.

Other respondents in the plunder case are former Executive Sec. Alberto Romulo, former OWWA Administrator Virgilio Angelo and former Philhealth President and CEO Francisco Duque III.

“We are fully supporting the re-filing of this case with the Department of Justice with cases directly or indirectly handled by Migrante International during the duration of the complaint. We are deeply grateful to Atty. Chavez for lending his voice to OFWs in their clamor for justice and accountability,” said Gina Esguerra, secretary-general of Migrante International and affiant to the complaint.

In Migrante’s affidavit, Esguerra stated, “We migrant workers also pay an OWWA membership fee of $25 per contract and P900 for OWWA-Medicare contributions before we leave the country. This denotes that in 2004, the OWWA raked in $23,339,700 (P1,237,004,100) in membership dues and P840,229,200 in Medicare contributions from the 933,588 workers deployed. OWWA annually gets fresh direct revenue from migrant workers and these funds accumulated to as much as P6 billion in 2003.”

It was around the same time when, based on Migrante International’s database, at least 462 migrant workers who either had medical reimbursement or checks for pick-up that were rendered “pending” by the OWWA. The complaint also charged Arroyo and company of “betrayal of public trust” for suspending OWWA’s major services in light of the corruption of funds.

These OWWA funds are trust funds to be administered for the specific and particular benefit of overseas and migrant workers. They are not general public funds that may be allocated for other purposes. Under the Arroyo Administration and her direct instructions, these funds were diverted to other purposes and resulted in the “denial of medical, livelihood and other forms of assistance to migrant workers and their families” during her term.

In the complaint, Chavez and Migrante International allege that Arroyo and the respondents misused, re-channeled and charged 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. Migrante International poses the question “(Since) no actual evacuation of Filipino took place, (but) where did the money go?”

“Arroyo also transferred the P100 Million Livelihood Development Program from the OWWA to the National Livelihood Support Fund under the Office of the President in September 2003. The diversion of this program and its funds gave her the free hand to decide as to what projects she would do and where they would be allotted. This also did not benefit migrant workers.”

Arroyo 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.

Esguerra, who used to be a domestic worker from Hong Kong, further stated, “Under the Arroyo administration, more migrant workers came home as victims of abuse. The Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) personnel at the Ninoy Aquino International (NAIA) reported that from January to June 2004 alone, 994 migrant workers returned to the Philippines after suffering different forms of maltreatment while 49 arrived with mental illnesses.” These cases, she said, were handled directly or indirectly by Migrante International.

Esguerra said that the plunder complaint is the first step towards ensuring that OWWA funds are trickling down to much-needed welfare services and assistance to OFWs instead of being utilized and abused for corruption. “We call on the DOJ to thoroughly investigate these funds. OWWA funds are OFW funds. We demand to know where and how they were being used during Arroyo’s term. Perpetrators should be held accountable for this grave injustice against our bagong bayani.” ###