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Lawmaker’s aides under probe over fake Saro

/ 01:49 AM November 30, 2013

The aides of a Cagayan representative and six employees of the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) appeared Friday at the National Bureau of Investigation Anti-Graft Division in connection with its investigation of fake special allotment release orders (Saros).

A Saro is a document issued by the DBM that allows the release of funds for lump-sum items, such as the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), also known as pork barrel.

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Enrico Arao, an aide of Cagayan second district Rep. Baby Aline Vargas Alfonso, who allegedly “hand-carried” the Saro that had the fake signature of Budget Undersecretary Luz Cantor, told reporters he was cooperating with the NBI.

‘Did not know it was fake’

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Arao admitted having submitted the bogus document to the Department of Agriculture (DA) but said that he did so “in good faith.”

“I did not know it was a fake Saro and I presumed regularity because it came from somebody in the office. I submitted it to the DA in good faith,” Arao said.

The fake Saro submitted to the DA was worth P161 million.

Arao said he had already provided the NBI the name of the person who gave him the fake Saro.

Accompanied by another staff member of Alfonso, Arao said he decided to cooperate with the NBI after learning from news reports about the fake Saro.

“We thought we were doing our job until I received a subpoena,” he said.

The Inquirer tried but failed to get the side of Alfonso on the issue.

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Step-by-step process

The DBM employees similarly subpoenaed by the NBI also gave their statements to the investigation team that had earlier been briefed on the step-by-step process leading to the approval of a Saro.

The employees presented to the NBI pages of a logbook that had served as a records log of the flow of documents in their division, described as Bureau E, under the Budget and Management Operations Group.

Under Bureau E were the DA, the Department of Agrarian Reform, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, the National Water Resources Board, the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development Staff and the Department of Science and Technology.

Budget legal counsel Gene Santoc, who accompanied the DBM employees, declined to comment on the investigation.

Arao presented the fake Saro dated Oct. 10 that he had submitted to the DA regional office in Cagayan Valley on Oct. 18.

Identical

In earlier interviews, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said both the fake and genuine Saros were identical in format, security code, date and amount.

She added that the NBI had received reports of more fake Saros from other regions in the course of its investigation on the bogus Saro uncovered by regional officers of the DA. The Saros were for P879 million worth of farm-to-market road projects.

The justice official said the NBI was now tracing three more regions that had alerted the main office of either the DA or the DBM about more fake Saros. She identified these as Regions IV-A (Calabarzon), VI (Western Visayas) and XII (Soccsksargen).

Grease money

The Saro has also been used by crooked DBM personnel to demand grease money from lawmakers and mayors for its release. The lawmakers and mayors could, in turn, demand advances from their contractors.

Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala earlier said several mayors had complained about this practice among unscrupulous DBM employees.

The fake Saro scam was uncovered amid public outrage over the P10-billion pork barrel scam allegedly masterminded by businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles.

The release of the Saro triggered the payment of advances to lawmakers whose allocations from their PDAF were in turn funneled to dubious nongovernment organizations implementing ghost livelihood projects.

RELATED STORIES:

P879-M fund release by DBM investigated

Probe of DBM scam widens

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TAGS: Department of Budget and Management (DBM), Enrico Arao, fake Saro, lawmaker’s aides, Philippines, Saro scam, special allotment release order (Saro)
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