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Solon faces Saro raps

NBI links four more to DBM syndicate

THE National Bureau of Investigation has recommended criminal charges be filed against Aklan Rep. Teodorico Haresco Jr., and four others for their alleged role in the release of fake special allotment release orders (SAROs) for projects to build farm-to-market roads.

In a report to Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, the NBI also said that it discovered a well-entrenched syndicate operating in the Department of Budget and Management that was involved in the proliferation of fake SAROs.

The bureau said, however, that it needed to gather more evidence before acting against the syndicate.

Haresco cried foul, saying he was singled out among 32 lawmakers who were accused of benefiting from the fake SAROs.

Budget Secretary Florencio Abad welcomed the NBI report, but said the investigation into the fake SAROs should not end there.

The NBI initially filed criminal charges against Haresco for falsification of public documents; Emmanuel Raza, a congressional staff of Rep. Lilia Macruhon-Nuno of Zamboanga City for falsification of public documents, violation of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act and violation of the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees; Elvie Rafael, driver of DBM Undersecretary Mario Relampagos for falsification of public documents, violation of the anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, and violation of the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public

Officials; and Mary Ann Castillo, a consultant in the office of Haresco, for obstruction of justice.

De Lima said the NBI has yet to gather sufficient evidence to recommend the filing of charges against Relampagos, who was among those investigated.

The NBI recommended further investigation into the well-entrenched syndicate to determine who were its members, De Lima said.

On Sept. 24, 2013, the Budget Department received a request from Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala for SAROs worth P879.86 million to build farm-to-market roads, chargeable against the General Appropriations Act.

In the absence of a network plan as required under the national budget, Relampagos attached a note addressed to DBM Director Teresita Salud saying “not recommending.”

The documents and the SAROs remained in the DBM until Oct. 22, 2013.

NBI investigators, however, found that Amado Arao, a staff of Cagayan-District II Rep. Aline Vargas-Alfonso, hand-carried a photocopy of the SARO to the Agriculture Department’s regional field unit in Tuguegarao City. The amount authorized was P161.6 million, and the document bore the signature of then DBM Assistant Secretary Luz Cantor.

Arao admitted that it was e-mailed to him by Abraham Pelonio, the chief of staff of the congresswoman.

Pelonio told the NBI that the document was handed to him by Jose Badong, a supervising legislative officer of the committee on appropriations in the House of Representatives on Oct. 16, 2013.

Badong said he received the copy of the SARO and its attachments from Raza.

Raza claimed that he got the folder containing the photocopy of the listing of the farm-to-market road projects for 2013 for Region II from Rafael and Beltran.

The NBI investigators said Rafael and Beltran offered no evidence to contradict Raza’s allegations.

With respect to the falsified SARO for Region VI from the office of Haresco, the NBI team was informed by Haresco’s chief of staff Norman Tayag that it was endorsed by Castillo.

The NBI team noted that Castillo claimed that the SARO was left by a person whom she did not know.

It added that Castillo refused to further cooperate with the NBI’s investigation.

However, the NBI noted that based on the records, Alcala received from Haresco a letter dated Oct. 21, 2013 with a copy of the cancelled SARO attached to it.

Tayag later admitted that the office of the congressman prepared the subject letter and sent it to the DA.

“The team observed that considering that the SARO was attached and referred to in a letter signed by congressman Haresco Jr., and sent to the DA secretary, the legal presumption that the person who presented a falsified document is deemed to be the author, if he stands to benefit therefrom, arises,” the NBI said in its recommendation.

“The requirement of gain or benefit was satisfied because Haresco... would surely take the credit if the project mentioned in the SARO would be implemented considering that his district was its beneficiary,” it added.

The copy of the cancelled SARO, which was attached to the letter of Haresco, dated Oct. 21, 2013, bore the purported signature of Cantor.

“Haresco is a public officer who is in the position to have access to SAROs concerning his district as part of his public functions. It appears that he took advantage of his official position and caused it to appear that Asec. Luz Cantor signed SARO numbered BMB-E-13-0017726 when in truth and in fact, she did not,” the NBI said.

The Justice Department is expected to conduct a preliminary investigation to determine whether or not there is a probable cause to indict the respondents before the trial court.

At a press conference, Haresco said he was flabbergasted by the charges against him and demanded that the NBI re-investigate the case.

“I am the victim here. I was the one who requested for the investigation at the NBI, and yet I am the one being charged here,” Haresco said.

Haresco said he received two SAROs, one in October 2013, which he said was fake, and a second on Jan. 19, 2014, which he said was genuine. They were mailed to him from the DBM and the regional office of the Agriculture Department, respectively.

He said the NBI should also look into the genuine copy of the SARO.

“Amongst other congressmen and persons accused, I do not know why I am the one being singled out,” Haresco said.

He said the NBI never invited him for questioning, and only talked to his staff on three occasions.

An NBI source would neither confirm nor deny Haresco’s claim that there were 32 lawmakers involved.

In a text message, Abad said: “We welcome the submission -- finally -- of the (NBI) report.”

Abad, however, stressed that the ongoing investigation should not end with the submission of the report. – With Maricel V. Cruz, Macon Ramos-Araneta, PNA

 

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