Press Release
August 4, 2006


CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY -- Minority Leader Aquilino Nene Q. Pimentel, Jr. (PDP-Laban) today said the Senate will consider t he allocation from the National Treasury of P500 million for the evacuation of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) from Lebanon but there must first be full disclosure of the status of the Overseas Workers Welfare Fund.

Pimentel rejected the suggestion from some quarters to suspend the Senate inquiry into the disbursement of the fund, saying the probe will not in anyway hamper the evacuation and repatriation of the OFWs.

He said the Senate is duty-bound to look into allegations about missing funds and diversion of P530 million from the OWWA to the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. that was supposedly used in the distribution of Philhealth insurance cards to indigents before the 2004 presidential election.

According to the minority leader, Palace, foreign affairs and labor officials should also give their side on the complaint of Ambassador to Lebanon Al Francis Bichara about the governments failure to send funds to the Philippine embassy in Beirut for use in the mass evacuation.

It is our obligation to find out what happened not only to the funds that were supposed to be sent to Lebanon, and in general what has happened to the OWWA Fund, Pimentel said.

Commenting on the claim of OWWA officials that the P530 million was transferred to Philhealth in two tranches only in March and April, 2005. Pimentel said the Senate would try to find out whether there was no window-dressing of financial records.

He said then Philhealth president Francisco Duque III (now secretary of health) had specifically requested President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo for the transfer of the OWWA money as early as 2002.

In a memo dated Nov. 20, 2002, Dr. Duque told the President: It is respectfully requested that the proposed EO (executive order) be approved by her Excellency before the year ends. The proposed transfer will have a significant bearing on the 2004 elections.

Pimentel said the transfer of the P530 million to Philhealth was illegal because the OWWA fund was a trust fund for the exclusive use for the needs and welfare of the OFWs. He also pointed out that the transfer was illogical since most OFWs are not members of Philhealth.

And therefore the OWWA Fund cannot be used for any other purpose, he said.

He said the issuance of the EO on the transfer of fund from OWWA to Philhealth was a violation of the law in itself because of its character as a trust fund.

In the Senate deliberations on the P500 million funding for the mass evacuation as part of the P46.9 billion supplemental budget, Pimentel said this cannot be done in isolation from the alleged misuse or disappearance of portions of the OWWA Fund.

It does not mean that during the deliberations on the supplemental budget, we will stay quiet about the OWWA Fund and how a portion of the Fund was diverted to other uses, because to my mind, it is important for a complete understanding of the status of the OWWA Fund, he said.

Pimentel said that according to an OWWA report two years ago audited by the Commission on Audit, the OWWA Fund stood at P7.2 billion. He said that since the OWWA continues to collect $25 fee from every departing OFW, the Fund should have increased to about P10 billion by now.

Pimentel also slammed the Palace from prohibiting labor, foreign affairs and other executive officials from appearing before the Senate committee on labor which is looking into the controversy over the funding for the mass evacuation.

Our common stand in the Senate is the refusal of the officials of the executive branch to testify before the Senate has no legal to stand on because they are trying to expand the meaning of Executive Order 464 which has already been declared null and void by the Supreme Court, he said.

News Latest News Feed