Following the discovery of a modus operandi at the resumption of the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee’s probe into the alleged P8.7-billion road right-of-way (RROW) “scam” in General Santos City, Senator Richard J. Gordon said the disclosure bolstered suspicions that the Land Registration Authority may have abetted the syndicates in defrauding the government of billions of pesos.
Gordon, committee chairman, pointed out that LRA officials failed to take any action which could have prevented the Department of Public Works and Highways from paying bogus claimants.
Gordon made the statement after star witness Roberto Catapang disclosed during Monday’s hearing that he met with Ser John Pastrana, chief of the LRA’s Information and Communications Technology Division, and complained about the fake Transfer of Certificate Titles.
Pastrana admitted to not copying the TCT numbers that Catapang complained to be bogus but said he reported it to then LRA Administrator Eulalio Diaz. However, both failed to act on the complaint.
“We are questioning why, aside from not doing anything to verify the complained titles and not even taking note of the title numbers, you deemed it important enough to report it to your boss,. Yet you both did not act on the complaint. He has not even appeared in any of our hearings. The way we see it, there may be misfeasance or non-feasance here. Besides, why would you entertain a self-confessed member of a syndicate and not even report it to the DoJ [Department of Justice] which is your ultimate head so he would be arrested?” Gordon told Pastrana.
Gordon then asked Catapang: “When you went to Pastrana to complain, did you have any intention of going to him and squealing on him should he refuse to act because you knew he was also in cahoots with the syndicate? You would not have been emboldened to go up to him and admit that you are part of the syndicate if you didn’t know that he was part of the syndicate.”
Gordon said that had the DPWH exerted due diligence to verify the titles and the LRA issued correct certifications, the government would not have been defrauded of billions of pesos in RROW payments.
“I assume, the DPWH has verified the titles before proceeding to pay 50 percent to the claimants. If the LRA informed the DPWH that the titles were fake, then it wouldn’t have made any payment,” he said.
“When you can no longer rely on one of the most important pillars of business and property ownership—the title, the torrens title, talagang delikado tayo. Nakita ninyo, ang laki ng ninakaw sa bayan natin,” he said.
Earlier, Gordon said the corruption in the road right-of-way payment, which already cost the government P6 billion in GenSan alone, is perpetrated with the connivance of unscrupulous individuals from concerned agencies such as the DPWH, the LRA, and to the Register of Deeds down to the Assessor’s Office.
He also exposed the anomaly in the LRA system which had already cost the government P255.55 million for nine parcels of land alone in General Santos City. He presented a table which showed that the sizes of the parcels of land covered by the titles that the claimants submitted, which the LRA certified to be authentic and genuine, were jacked up several times over.
One such Transfer Certificate of Title Number, covering an alleged 25,713-square meter property in Lagao, GenSan, was purportedly owned by claimant Ramon Ballesteros. However, when verified with the Register of Deeds of GenSan, the said TCT No., it turned out to be a 90-square meter property in Apopong with Richmond Land Innovations Inc. as its registered owner.