Ombudsman junks plunder, graft raps vs GMA, Dato

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Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales dismissed on Monday the plunder and graft complaints filed against former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and her son, Rep. Diosdado, “Dato” Arroyo of Camarines Sur in connection with infrastructure projects in the province.

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But this was not the case with Augusto “Boboy” Syjuco, the former chief of the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (Tesda).

Two weeks ago, the Office of the Ombudsman filed 12 counts of graft against Syjuco for the Pangulong Gloria Scholarship program (PGSP) controversy. The case was raffled to the Sandiganbayan’s Third Division.

The two Arroyos were accused of incurring ill-gotten wealth from the Libmanan-Cabusao Dam and Skybridge 1 and 2 projects.

Morales approved the recommendation of the OMB’s field investigation office to close and terminate the case because the evidence gathered did not warrant the filing criminal proceedings.

However, the Ombudsman approved a further probe into the propriety of the acts of public officials responsible in the planning and implementation of the said infrastructure projects.

Previous investigation found no evidence to show that the Arroyos directly and actively participated in the planning or implementation of the projects.

The 28-page Investigation Report further said the project funding did not come from the former president’s Social Fund or from her son’s priority development assistance fund (PDAF).

The OMB found that the projects were funded through the regular budgets of the National Irrigation Administration (NIA) and the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH).

The complaint was filed last year by lawyer Roberto “Argee” Gueverra, Renecio “Luke” Espiritu Jr., Jose Aaron Pedrosa, and Juliano Fernando Guiang.

They accused the Arroyos of plunder directly or through their “dummies” at the NIA and the DPWH, alleging that the Pampanga solon gave billions of public money as a birthday gift to Dato to finance his bid for Congress in May 2010.

This, they claimed, was an act of “giving her son unwarranted benefits by announcing that she had lined up a total of P3 billion worth of projects for Dato’s district, a year and a half before the May 2010 elections . . . in a project which is manifestly and grossly disadvantageous to the government.”

But the OMB ruled that there was no evidence that the two amassed, accumulated or acquired ill-gotten wealth directly or through their subordinates in the NIA and DPWH, because the dam was already included in the NIA’s 2008 procurement plans and the skybridge projects fell under DPWH’s project scheme in 2009.

“Nor was there a showing that respondents demanded and received the amount of not less than P50 Million as ‘SOP’ from the projects,” it said.

The P700-million Libmanan-Cabusao Dam project, which covers a 10-kilometer diversion canal and other structures to service 4,000 hectares, was suspended by the NIA in 2009 because of strong local opposition and studies on the probability of flooding towns downstream.

Mrs. Arroyo is detained at the Veterans Memorial Medical Center for a separate plunder case in connection with the misuse of funds of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office.

Skybridge 1 and 2, worth P1.2 million also faced implementation problems and issues causing delay and additional cost.

Meanwhile, Syjuco is accused of putting TESDA in debt when he allegedly issued vouchers as scholarship certificates to several schools beyond the P5.6-billion funds under the PGSP.

The P720 million (or P900 million to P2 billion, depending on audit year), Syjuco said, was a deficit from the expenditure for scholars who completed their courses.

His camp said that close to two million students graduated under the PGSP in 2009 and hundreds of thousands benefited from that “deficit.”

“How, then, can the education of these students possibly be characterized as ‘grossly and manifestly disadvantageous’ to the government?” it added.

It added that Syjuco himself recalled the unused vouchers and saved the government P2 billion based on the complainant’s figures.

“This is the first time, it seems, that any government official has been charged with violating Section 3(g) for incurring a budgetary ‘shortfall,’” it noted.

The OMB found that Syjuco made special commitments with various entities and local governments, issuing vouchers under the PGSP for scholarships amounting to millions of pesos.

Tesda filed charges against Syjuco in 2010.

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