DBM exec being probed over SARO

By Edu Punay, The Philippine Star

Posted at Jan 06 2014 09:13 AM | Updated as of Jan 06 2014 05:13 PM

MANILA - A ranking official of the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) is being investigated for the scheme involving falsification of special allotment release orders (SAROs), Justice Secretary Leila de Lima bared yesterday.

De Lima confirmed that Undersecretary Mario Relampagos is so far the highest official covered by the probe of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) on the fake SAROs allegedly perpetrated by a syndicate in the DBM.

“Given the involvement of some of his personnel, Usec Relampagos is inevitably covered by NBI’s ongoing probe,” De Lima said.

“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?” she said.

Pending the investigation, De Lima said Relampagos’ going on leave would be “a matter between him and his superior.”

De Lima earlier revealed the NBI probe has so far pointed to involvement of several staff members of Relampagos that included his secretary, driver and janitor in the scam.

De Lima had not named any of them. Relampagos then is the first official confirmed as among those under investigation over the controversy related to the multibillion-peso pork barrel fund scam.

The NBI said they have already verified the SAROs for two projects in Cagayan and Aklan provinces and found them to have been falsified and that several DBM personnel were involved.

De Lima said the NBI uncovered the group, which kept specimen signatures of approving authorities that they superimposed on unsigned, photocopied SAROs.

The syndicate would photocopy advanced copies of the unsigned SAROs and superimpose on them signatures before photocopying the documents again.

“After the SAROs were photocopied several times, the fake signatures would seem to appear authentic already,” De Lima said in explaining the scheme.

Of the 12 SAROs being probed by the NBI, De Lima said two from Regions I and VI involving projects worth P161 million and P77 million, respectively, were fake.

The other questionable SAROs involved projects in Calabarzon (Region 4A) and Soccsksargen (Region 12). SARO is a document issued by the DBM for actual release of funds for projects.

De Lima said those involved in the scheme were DBM personnel led by a certain “supremo” of female gender and with staff of several congressmen.

De Lima also revealed the NBI probe had initially pointed to a consultant of Aklan Rep. Teodoro Haresco as source of the two fake SAROs.

Before being elected congressional representative, Haresco used to be a party-list representative.

De Lima said the NBI was 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.

De Lima has given the NBI until end of this month to complete the investigation 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, 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 spurious foundations to divert the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) of lawmakers and Malampaya funds with the help of several lawmakers and implementing government agencies.