Funds transferred to Smokey Mountain and PhilHealth, records show
OWWA fund juggling confirmed by CoA
By Angie M. Rosales
Charges of alleged juggling of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) funds held in trust by Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) dating back to the Ramos administration, was established yesterday by Senate investigators with two sectors, the Commission on Audit (CoA) and a non-government organization claiming the same findings, based on documents culled by the two agencies.
At least half a billion pesos was shown to have been illegally used when OWWA was made to engage in the Smokey Mountain housing development project while another P500 million or exactly P530 million of its funds was transferred to PhilHealth amid objections by some board members representing land- and sea-based migrant workers.
This piece of information corroborates an earlier expose made by Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago during a privilege speech a few years ago concerning a project undertaken by R-II Builders Inc. of businessman Reghis Romero.
Worth of the said project, to date, has already ballooned to at least P1 billion and the government, “technically” is yet to recoup both investments and interest earnings although the principal amount had been “reimbursed” to OWWA by another government agency, the Home Insurance Guarantee Corp. (HIGC).
The HIGC stood as the “guarantor” to the amount OWWA “loaned” to enable R-2 Builders to undertake the Smokey Mountain Development and Reclamation Project, in joint joint venture with the National Housing Authority as the land owner.
Alongside this development, Senate probers learned there is “available” P7.1 billion OWWA funds currently deposited in Land Bank of the Philippines (Landbank), P3.2 billion, in Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP) billion and P703 million in various banks.
Senators sitting as members in the panel chaired by Sen. Jinggoy Estrada, upon hearing the testimonies given by Connie Regalado of Migrante International, and attested by OWWA resident auditor Gemiliano Maloles, were at a loss on why there is a squabble over the availability of funds needed for the repatriation of OFWS stranded in Lebanon.
“This investigation occurred because during the height of the Lebanon crisis , the (Philippine) embassy (in Beirut) complained that there are no funds available…the rumors again on this issue that there’s no money came about recently and then here it shows that there is over P7 billion in funds. So OWWA has funds. Then why is it (it is) so parsimonious in giving funds?” asked Sen. Joker Arroyo.
Senators were told by Maloles that government actually can dip its fingers into these funds, if need be, but it would get a lesser amount because the account will be rendered pre-terminated.
“If they have such funds, why is Malacanang asking for a supplementary budget (for workers’ evacuation)?” Estrada commented before reporters during a briefing that proceeded after the hearing.
Senators were also told that the reported P530 million transferred to Philhealth, alleged to have been made without any consultation with migrant workers as provided by OWWA charter and existing laws, are yet to be “replenished” by the government, according to Rosemarie Trajano of Kanlungan Center, an NGO working for OFWs’ welfare.
Based on the presentation by Maloles, OWWA’s annual revenues, the latest of which was for the year 2005, totaled P1.3 billion coming from fees and taxes received from OFWs alone, excluding those from so-called investments and interests income while expenses incurred included benefits paid to migrant workers and overhead operations amounted to P673 million last year.
More or less, OWWA had P650 million net collections based on fees and returned interest income of P462 million last year.
Regalado claimed before senators that based on records they collated, a total of P8 billion to include that with Philhealth and the Smokey Mountain project were poured by the government to other agencies over the years.
It was Regalado who told senators the transfer of funds to Philhealth was not approved by OFWs’ representatives sitting in the OWWA board of trustees.
“In the P530 million OWWA medicare funds transferred to Philhealth, the first move was done in Feb. 2, 2004, OWWA board resolution 005 approving the transfer of said amount and based on the statement of OWWA, the transfer was made in 2005.
She then said that after President Arroyo signed EO 182 for the transfer of the fund, in Feb. 2, 2004, the OWWA board of trustees approved resolution No. 005 for the transfer of the P530 million.
She said after the amendment was sone, stated that the actual transfer wasmade in March 2005….they have the report, the OWWA. It was submitted to the House committee on overseas workers’ affairs during a hearing last March 29.
“It was, the OWWA Medicare funds, collected from each OFW of P900 per year…actually it accumulated up to P4 billion and P530 was transferred to Philhealth..the Medicare program of OFWs is now handled by Philhealth.
She said this was an illegal transfer because the money of OWWA is a trust fund and it is owned by the migrant workers and the transfer was done without proper consultations from the migrant workers themselves.
“We were raising the issue that before any transfer of funds or before the OWWA board of trustees should decide where the money should be spent, especially in matters like the Medicare funds, there should be a consultation with migrant workers but it was not really done.”
She saud she was in HongKong in 2003 when the former president of Philhealth Francisco Duque appeared in an OFWs’ forum in the Philippine consulate. He said it was a consultation but in reality it was not because he was already selling Philhealth (cards) to OFWs and during that time Mrs. Arroyo signed EO 182 on the transfer of funds. She charged rgar Duque was actually marketing it, explaining the benefits from income. It was not a consultation. It was in July 2003. I was still the chairperson of United Filipinos in Hong Kong….
“The proposed transfer of OWWA funds was actually in relation to the plan of President Arroyo to run in 2004 presidential elections,” she said.
As to the Smokey Mountain project, an initial investment was made in Feb. 6, 1995 of P93.1 million with a
face value of P100 million on the same month, she said citing documents from OWWA.
“On Feb. 9, 1995, the OWWA secretariat headed by then OWWA chief, followed by administrator Wilhelm Soriano who assumed office in may 23, 1005, facilitated the investment of P459.4 million worth of Smokey Mountain project participation certificates with a face value of P500 million.
“From October 1996 to the maturity value of the initial investment as of Oct. 2000 was P905.9 million or a 92 percent increase in five years.
“But based on CoA annual audit report on the OWWA for the year ending Dec. 2005, it was found out that the OWWA’s investment in the Smokey Mountain project participation certificate now has a face value of P664 million was made in violation of DoF circular 194-8 are not within the maturity date.
“And I have here a copy of the summary of the investment portfolio, it’s not only P664 million, in 2000 it says that from the OWWA main fund that comes from membership fee collection, there is a total of P664 million investment and from the Medicare fund of P171 million or a total of P835 million,” she said.
Regalado further testified that such undertaking was illegal, “because a private firm cannot own or acquire a land for public domain”, citing the ruling rendered by the CoA.
The matter, when pursued by Sen. Sergio Osmena III, yielded similar claims from Maloles who explained before senators that the P500 million investment or principal amount, technically speaking, has yet to be recovered by the government since another government office, the HGIC “refunded” the amount to OWWA.
The P500 million income from 8.5 percent annual interests has not yet been given, Maloles said.
“That’s another scam because the Filipino people paid who for it. the HIGC is another government corporation…we know they’re the guarantor but obviously there’s a scam there because it’s operating a port and yet they did not pay the interest so they used the money of the workers,” said Osmena.
Not even the principal has been returned, Maloles said.
“So OWWA invested and it’s in the nature of a loan…(with 8.5% interest)…and so R-2 Builders neither paid principal nor interest on that P500M,” Osmena said.
OWWA invested P500 million, of this, it is supposed to have earned another P500 million in interests over the years, roughly about P1 billion. Of the P1 billion, P500 million was paid back to OWWA by HIGC…representing the principal,” said Maloles.
“So R-2 still owes P500 million in accumulated interests,” the senator said.
“Technically sir it is already the HIGC that is assuming…this was paid in tranches, it’s not a one-time payment,” Maloles clarified.
Asked by Osmena to there were any earnings OWWA got from the said project, Soriano who is currently commissioner of the Human Rights Commission (CHR), explained that there was none because they merely assumed the role of being a participant in the project.