Manila: Former president Gloria Arroyo, a private businesswoman and 18 senior government officials were charged before the ombudsman with plunder and malversation, for allegedly siphoning P900 million (Dh75 million) from government’s livelihood and rehabilitation projects for farmers who were victims of two deadly typhoons in 2009, the justice department said.

The justice department, together with the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), elevated to the ombudsman complaints of alleged corrupt practices also against former executive secretary Eduardo Ermita, former agrarian reform secretary Nasser Pangandaman, former agrarian reform undersecretary Rafael Nieto, agrarian reform finance officer Teresita Panlilio, former budget secretary Rolando Andaya and budget undersecretary Mario Relampagos, among others.

In October 2009, Arroyo ordered an executive order allowing to expand the use of Malampaya fund, which represents royalties from oil and gas operations off Palawan in southwestern Philippines. Originally limited to government’s expenditure on energy, Arroyo allowed P900 million to be channelled to the agrarian department for the livelihood projects of farmers in 25 provinces who were affected by Typhoon Ketsana (Ondoy) in Luzon which occurred on September 25, 2009, and Typhoon Parma (Pepeng) which entered the Philippines on September 28, of the same year.

Also charged was businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles, including heads of 12 fake non-government organisations (NGOs) that she had created to siphon off funds for projects that were never implemented in the typhoon devastated provinces. Napoles allegedly created several NGOs to implement government projects after she received information from a government official that Arroyo would issue an executive order allowing to expand the use of Malampaya fund.

Each of Napoles’ NGO received P55 million (Dh4.68 million) to P82.5 million (Dh6.87 million) for projects in several local government units that were proposed to and approved by the agrarian department, but were never implemented at all, said whistle-blowers who once worked with Napoles but eventually became state witnesses.

Heads of the local government units where the projects were supposed to take place were not charged at the Ombudsman because they were not part of the scheme, said Levito Baligod, lawyer of the government’s 10 witnesses.

The signatures of 97 mayors where the projects for farmers were supposed to take place were forged, based on their testimonies when they were investigated, said Baligod.

Explaining why local government officials never knew about the existence of the projects that were paid for by the agrarian reform department, Baligod said, “They never knew about the existence of the said projects that the NGOs of Napoles proposed to the agrarian reform department.”

Merlina Suñas, another whistle-blower, said that the signatures of the heads of NGOs who proposed the projects, and those who approved the projects and released their respective funds were genuine.

Suñas said that Napoles assigned her as a coordinator at the agrarian department, when it was releasing the P900 million (Dh75 million) Malampaya fund for the proposed projects for farmers in 2009.

A truckload of evidences that came from the whistle-blowers was submitted to the office of the Ombudsman in suburban Quezon City, said Cecilio Zamora, spokesman of the NBI.

In September, the NBI and the justice department also filed plunder and malversation charges against Napoles, three senators and 34 others in connection with the alleged laundering of P10 billion (Dh 833.3 million) development funds of senators through fake projects and non-existing NGOs.

Napoles was also included in the plunder and malversation case that was filed by the Movement of Filipino Farmers (KMP) against President Benigno Aquino before the Ombudsman last October 2. The case was connected to the alleged misuse of the lawmaker’s development funds.

Napoles is detained at a police headquarters in Santa Rosa, Laguna, southern Luzon, for illegal detention case filed against her by one of her employers, who is now a whistleblower.

The Malampaya Fund comes from the royalties paid by Shell Philippine Exploration B.V, Chevron Malampaya LLC and the Philippine National Oil Corporation Exploration, which operate the Malampaya natural gas field off Palawan in southwestern Philippines.

The gas field supplies three power plants which have a capacity of 2,700 megawatts - which represent 40 per cent of the power requirement of Luson, one of three islands in the Philippines.