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Ex-ambassador to Nigeria challenges malversation rap filed with anti-graft court

/ 07:19 AM July 14, 2011

MANILA, Philippines—Former ambassador to Nigeria Masaranga Umpa has challenged the filing of malversation charges against him for the alleged misuse of funds for overseas Filipino workers, saying that the case was politically motivated and that he had been too busy attending to the issue of kidnapped Filipinos to disburse funds.

Umpa asked the Sandiganbayan to defer the proceedings against him and to remand his case to the Office of the Ombudsman, where he had asked for the dismissal of his case. Umpa has appealed its earlier resolution recommending that he be charged for supposedly mishandling $95,000 worth of public funds.

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The case against Umpa stemmed from a complaint filed by the Department of Foreign Affairs. The Office of the Ombudsman said he was negligent in his duty of counter-checking supporting documents for several transactions.

In a motion filed before the anti-graft court, Umpa said he or his lawyers have never received a copy of the Ombudsman resolution ordering his indictment, and only learned about it through the media.

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Umpa said the charges against him were filed before the Sandiganbayan immediately, without giving him the chance to file a motion for reconsideration. He should be given the chance to challenge the Ombudsman’s findings first, he added.

Umpa said that if the Office of the Ombudsman evaluated the arguments in his motion for reconsideration, it would be “enlightened” and reverse its earlier findings.

In his motion for reconsideration filed before the Ombudsman, Umpa said the filing of a case against him was “political harassment” and meant to remove him from his post as Philippine Ambassador to Nigeria and destroy his good reputation. He said the accountable DFA officers were not included in the complaint. He was also not given the chance to explain his side before the case was forwarded to the Office of the Ombudsman, Umpa said.

In challenging the finding of probable cause against him, the former ambassador said the DFA failed to question the finance and administrative officers who had handled the embassy’s funds. Based on DFA regulations, they were the ones who must answer first, in case of errors in transactions, he said.

Umpa said he only approved disbursement vouchers after they were signed by the two officers responsible for preparing, examining, verifying and certifying the legality of transactions. He presumed that they had performed their duties, he added.

“Respondent, as a Head of Post, is not expected to check, counter-check, and double-check all the works of the Finance Officer and Administrative Officer,” Umpa said.

Umpa also said the questioned funds were used in operations to secure the release of 24 kidnapped Filipinos in Nigeria, and to investigate the alleged disappearance of a Filipina.

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He said the finance officer sent money to the other officers for the operations, but never to him. He had never disbursed funds or personally paid expenses, Umpa said.

According to Umpa, he was busy meeting with Nigerian government officials, political leaders, diplomats, the representatives of the Filipinos’ employers, the media and even then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to ensure the safe release of Filipinos.

Thus, he had no time to be in charge of the funds or to be disbursing them, and to check and examine all bills, receipts and other relevant documents.

“Besides, it is not the job of the respondent to do so, as this was specifically the job of the Administrative Officer under the regulations,” Umpa said.

Umpa said that aside from being busy with his job as ambassador, he was also busy with his work as dean of the diplomatic corps in Nigeria.

It would also have been costly and impractical and dangerous for him to travel by land to the areas of operation during the kidnapping crisis just to check each bill and document where they were issued, Umpa contended.

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TAGS: Diplomacy, diplomats, Foreign Service, Global Nation, Government, Graft and corruption, Masaranga Umpa, Nigeria, Philippines
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