Congressman, 4 others face raps over fake SAROs

Posted at 02/11/14 1:32 PM

MANILA (UPDATED) - The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) is recommending the filing of charges against Aklan Congressman Teodorico Haresco Jr. and four others in connection with the issuance of fake Special Allotment Release Orders (SAROs) for farm-to-market roads.

In its report, the NBI Anti-Graft Division said it is recommending the filing of charges of falsification of public documents against Haresco; Elvie Rafael, driver of Budget Undersecretary Mario Relampagos; Bhernie C. Beltran from the Department of Budget and Management; and Emmanuel Raza, a staff member of Zamboanga City Rep. Lilia Macrohon-Nuño.

The NBI also recommended the filing of a complaint for obstruction of justice against Haresco's consultant, Mary Ann Castillo.

Authorities said it discovered a "well entrenched syndicate in the Department of Budget and Management and the operation of the syndicate extends to the whole of Congress."

A SARO is a document from DBM that paves the way for the release of lump sum funds, which was also the case in the release of lawmakers’ pork barrel fund.

Last October, the DBM and the Department of Agriculture (DA) uncovered 12 fake SAROs intended for farm-to-market projects in Cagayan Valley, Calabarzon, Western Visayas and Soccsksargen region.

The information was forwarded to the NBI, whose initial probe revealed the proliferation of fake SAROs is part of a multi-million extortion racket involving congressional aides and local government officials.

Last year, news reports described the scheme: a DBM insider will alert the congressional staff; the congressional staff talks to a local official where the supposed project is to be implemented; the local official, say a mayor, will talk to a contractor. The contractor, in order to bag a multi-million project, will be forced to shell out millions in kickbacks.

In reality, however, the promised projects do not exist. In some cases, while the SARO number was accurate, it was intended for another project.

In Laguna, for example, town mayors were led to believe that a P900-million SARO would be released for the creation of water treatment facilities in their communities.

The NBI is expected to file within the week its transmittal letter for preliminary investigation to either the Department of Justice or the Ombudsman.

I'm the victim, Haresco says

Haresco, however, wants the NBI to reinvestigate the case.

"I'm flabbergasted… We were the ones who complained to the NBI. Amongst other congressmen I don't know why I'm the one being singled out. The function of SAROs is an executive function. The SARO doesn't give anything to legislators. I don't even know the full name of the SARO. I'm the victim here. A SARO is just a notice," he told reporters.

Haresco said his office has been coordinating with the NBI over its investigation on the fake SAROs scam, noting that his staff went to the agency 2-3 times.

He said that out of 32 possible lawmakers being linked to the scam, only he has been singled out to face charges.

The congressman said it is impossible for his office to facilitate the fake SAROs since three out of his staff of 5 are working students.

"How can it be that my office be the originator of fake SAROs when we have no capability at all. We have an idea. We don't know code number or signatories. It is a gargantuan operation to know what are the signs and countersigns," he said.

"What is not normal here is this accusation that our office was involved in falsification of public documents."

Haresco maintained that the SARO for P10 million that was allegedly falsified covers a legitimate project. He said a similar SARO with the same amount and same code number for the same project was issued in January this year.

The allegedly falsified SARO was issued October 2013.

"I was informed by my staff another genuine SARO with same serial number came out January 19. Yun isa October, isa January. Same amount. The October is a fake one. The January is genuine," he said.

Haresco said the January 19 SARO was authenticated by the regional office. He showed media both the October and January SAROs. - With reports by Jorge Carino, ABS-CBN News; and The Philippine Star