Mayors, governors fall prey to ‘fake’ Abalos | Inquirer News

Mayors, governors fall prey to ‘fake’ Abalos

By: - Reporter / @dexcabalzaINQ
/ 05:00 AM December 13, 2023

Benhur Abalos Jr. —DILG PHOTO

Interior Secretary Benhur Abalos Jr. (Photo from the Department of the Interior and Local Government)

MANILA, Philippines — Some mayors and governors have been victimized by a fraudster pretending to be Interior Secretary Benhur Abalos Jr.

At a press briefing at Camp Crame on Tuesday, Abalos said that at least two governors and three mayors fell victim to members of a criminal syndicate uncovered by his security personnel.


Arrested during an entrapment operation in Lingayen, Pangasinan province, on Dec. 7 was Edison Montealto, 27, who had introduced himself as “Larry Abalos” and his supposed chief of staff.


Montealto, who was able to successfully imitate the voice of the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) secretary, was caught by members of the department’s Office of Internal Security and Lingayen police after receiving P150,000 in marked money from a governor.

Abalos denied that Montealto worked for him and stressed that he would never ask for money from anyone. He also urged the public and other government officials who were victimized to file a complaint against the suspect.

The DILG secretary said he learned last month from several local government officials that they had been duped by someone who was using his name for different projects.

‘Sounded like him’

According to the victims, they received phone calls from someone who sounded like him, with Abalos noting that the con man was “able to imitate my voice on the phone.”

The local government officials said they were informed by the fake Abalos that the DILG was going to send them sacks of rice but the vehicles transporting them had developed a problem and needed to undergo repairs. The victims were then asked to send money for the repairs through an online payment application.

Among those who were victimized were Governors Abdulraof Macacua of Maguindanao Del Norte and Edwin Ongchuan of Northern Samar, and Mayors Mohammad Ali Matabalao of Cotabato City, Arsenia Lim of Masinloc, Zambales and Receliste Escolin of President Roxas, Capiz.


The police said that Montealto was charged with identity theft in relation to the cybercrime law, estafa and spoofing, which refers to the “act of transmitting misleading or inaccurate information about the source of the phone call or text message, with the intent to defraud, cause harm or wrongfully obtain anything of value.”

Abalos believed the case of spoofing may be the first or among the first to be filed following the signing of the SIM (subscriber identity module) Registration Act in October last year.

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Police were also investigating other members of the group, who turned out to be relatives of Montealto. Authorities said that while they could not be arrested as no charges were filed against them, they voluntarily presented themselves to the police and vowed to cooperate in the investigation to identify the leader of the syndicate.

TAGS: Benhur Abalos, Department of the Interior and Local Government

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