Migrante welcomes DOJ decision on unlawful OWWA fund transfer but…

Global alliance of overseas Filipinos and families Migrante International welcomes the recent decision of the Department of Justice (DOJ) recommending the filing of two counts of technical malversation of P530 million Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) funds in 2003 but expressed misgivings about the DOJ panel’s dismissal of other complaints for plunder, graft and corruption, violation of election laws, misconduct and qualified theft against former president Gloria Arroyo and some of her former officials.

Apart from Arroyo, the DOJ referred the filing of charges to the Ombudsman against respondents former Foreign Secretary Alberto Romulo, former OWWA Administrator Virgilio Angelo and former PhilHealth president and chief executive officer Francisco Duque III who currently chairs the Civil Service Commission (CSC).

According to Bragas-Regalado, “This development has been long in the offing and we welcome it in the sense that at least now things are afoot. However, we find the DOJ recommendation lacking and insufficient. Arroyo and her cohorts should be charged for the other more grave and serious complaints of plunder and corruption for her deliberate misuse and abuse of OWWA funds. We feel that Arroyo et al are not getting what they fully deserve. ”

Bragas-Regalado said that migrant workers pay an OWWA membership fee of $25 per contract and P900 for OWWA-Medicare contributions per annum. “This denotes that in 2004, OWWA raked in $23,399,700 (Php1,237,004,100) in membership dues and P840,229,200 in Medicare contributions from the 933,588 workers it deployed then. OWWA annually got fresh direct revenue from migrant workers and these funds accumulated to as much as Php 6 billion in 2003.”

She said that it was around the same time, based on Migrante International’s database, that at least 462 migrant workers either had medical reimbursement or checks for pick-up that were rendered ‘pending’ by the OWWA. “OWWA suspended its major services, among them Medicare, during the same time that the funds mere misused,” she said.

“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 to other purposes. Under the Arroyo administration and her direct instructions, these funds were diverted to other purposes for her own gain and resulted in the denial of medical, livelihood and other forms of assistance to migrant workers and their families during her term.”

She added that 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 full liberty to decide where and to which projects the funds would be allotted. This also did not benefit migrant workers.”

Bragas-Regalado said that they are also studying the possibility of filing more charges against Arroyo, past and even current officials with regard the misuse of OWWA funds. “If the Aquino administration is really serious in going after Arroyo and in the process correct corrupt practices in the OWWA, he should conduct a full audit of OWWA funds,” she said.

Migrante International has been calling for a “full audit” of 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 overseas officers failed to remit more than Php21 million in collections to OWWA’s Land Bank-Manila dollar account in the last 10 years.###