Undersec’s role in fake SAROs probed by NBI
THE Justice Department on Sunday said it is investigating the possible involvement of Budget Undersecretary Mario Relampagos in a scheme to falsify special allotment release orders (SAROs) involving millions of pesos.
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said Relampagos is the highest official so far in the National Bureau of Investigation’s investigation into the fake SAROs allegedly perpetrated by a syndicate within the Department of Budget and Management.
“Given the involvement of some of his personnel, Undersecretary Relampagos is inevitably covered by the NBI’s ongoing probe,” De Lima said in a text message to reporters.
“The core factual issues are: Does he know about the shenanigans of his subordinates? Did he tolerate the same? Worse, did he benefit from those corrupt practices?” De Lima added.
The Palace said Sunday it did not plan to put Relampagos under preventive suspension.
“We will await the result of the Justice Department investigation before taking any action. An investigation is not enough basis to suspend any official or employee,” Budget Secretary Florencio Abad said in a text message.
Abad said he would like to see the investigation concluded soon.
“I am as eager as you to find out if there really is a scam and if it is a concerted effort from within and outside the Department of Budget and Management,” Abad said. “The alleged scam puts a cloud of doubt on the department and its officials and employees. The earlier the investigation is completed, the earlier the agency and its officials and employees are cleared and those found to be liable--if there are--identified and punished. We have extended full cooperation [to] the DOJ-NBI in our desire to ferret out the truth,” he added.
De Lima earlier said the NBI investigation has so far pointed to the involvement of several staff members under Relampagos, including his secretary, driver and janitor, but she declined to identify them.
De Lima confirmed that Relampagos is the first official being investigated in relation to the multi-billion-peso pork barrel fund scam.
NBI probers have already verified that the SAROs for two projects in Cagayan and Aklan provinces were falsified and that several personnel of the Budget Department were involved.
De Lima said NBI agents had found that the group kept specimen signatures of approving authorities, which they had superimposed on unsigned, photocopied SAROs.
The syndicate would photocopy advanced copies of the unsigned SAROs and superimpose signatures on them before xeroxing the documents again.
“After the SAROs were photocopied several times, the fake signatures would seem to appear authentic,” De Lima said.
Of the 12 SAROs being probed by the NBI, she said, the two from Regions I and VI involving projects worth P161 million and P77 million, respectively, were indeed fake.
The other questionable SAROs involved projects in Calabarzon (Region 4A) and Soccsksargen (Region 12).
The SARO is a document issued by the DBM authorizing the actual release of funds for projects.
De Lima said those involved in the scheme were DBM personnel led by a certain “supremo” who apparently is a woman, and the staff of several congressmen.
De Lima also said that the NBI probe had initially pointed to a consultant of Aklan Rep. Teodoro Haresco as the source of the two fake SAROs. Before being elected congressional representative, Haresco used to be a party-list representative.
De Lima said the probers are also determining if higher officials were involved in the scheme.
“So far, there is no indication that the congressmen were aware of this. The NBI only established so far involvement of congressional staff,” she said.
She has given the NBI until end of this month to complete the probe and submit a report.
She said some of those being investigated are being eyed as state witnesses in possible charges expected to be filed as a result of the probe.
Except for differences in font styles, the fake SAROs contained the same SARO numbers, codes, amount of money, dates, and name of signatories as the authentic ones.
The fake SAROs were discovered only last November at the height of the pork barrel fund mess involving businesswoman Janet Lim Napoles, who allegedly used non-existent foundations to divert Priority Development Assistance Funds and Malampaya Funds with the help of several lawmakers and implementing government agencies. – With Joyce Pangco Panares and Jennifer Ambanta