Lawmaker’s aide tied to fake Saro in hiding
An aide to Zamboanga City Rep. Lilia Macrohon-Nuño is in hiding and could be the link to a syndicate in the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) engaged in releasing fake special allotment release orders (Saros), according to a source involved in investigating the scam.
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, also known as pork barrel.
Investigators identified the aide as Manny Raza whom the National Bureau of Investigation is investigating in connection with the fake Saro scam upon the request of Nuño.
Raza was invited to appear at the NBI office on Tuesday, but was a no-show.
“He is the link to the fake Saro scheme and could identify his source from the DBM,” said the Inquirer source.
The source said Raza was linked to the scheme by Joel Badong, a member of the secretariat staff of Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr.
The source said that the fake Saro hand-carried by Enrico Arao, aide to Cagayan Rep. Baby Aline Vargas-Alfonso, to the Cagayan Valley office of the Department of Agriculture (DA) in October came from Badong.
Badong had appeared before the NBI and pointed to Raza as the source of the fake Saro.
Belmonte on Tuesday said that he had ordered the transfer of Badong, a staff member of the House appropriations committee, to the Office of the Secretary General while the NBI was looking into the case. The committee served as the clearinghouse of all pork barrel fund releases to lawmakers.
Belmonte said the “appropriations committee does not issue or receive any Saros” as these were sent directly by the DBM to the implementing agencies.
“I’m not prejudging anybody here. He is indirectly under me. I found it prudent to transfer him. This is not a (form of) punishment,” the Speaker said.
Saro from secretariat
On Friday, Arao told the Inquirer that he “got the Saro from the [House] secretariat staff and I thought it was genuine.”
The source also said that “a total of 12 fake Saros are the subject of the inquiry and at least four of the bogus documents have already surfaced.”
The widening probe on fake Saros involved P879 million worth of farm-to-market road projects to be implemented by the DA.
Earlier, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said that among the fake Saros for the farm-to-market road projects were meant for Regions II (Cagayan Valley), IV-A (Calabarzon), VI (Western Visayas) and XII (Soccsksargen).
DA regional officers stumbled upon the fake Saros, prompting Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala to order the immediate invalidation of the documents.
The source also said that Aklan Rep. Ted Jaresco had also asked the NBI to investigate a member of his staff, Maryanne Castillo, in connection with a P10-million fake Saro.
Castillo appeared before the NBI Tuesday and admitted that she was the one who had given the fake Saro to Jaresco’s chief of staff, Norman Tayag.
Castillo told the NBI that she did not know the person who gave the bogus Saro to her and “could no longer remember his face.”
“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.
Based on the House’s preliminary investigation, Belmonte tagged Raza as the source of the fake Saro given to Arao, Alfonso’s aide.
Belmonte said Raza was in possession of several Saros, including those for Cagayan Valley that the latter had wanted to give to Alfonso’s office.
The Speaker said Raza got in touch with Badong, who in turn referred Raza to Bong Pelonio, chief of staff of Alfonso.
“Apparently the guy from appropriations (Badong) is a good friend of her (Vargas-Alfonso) COS (Pelonio). They know and talk to each other,” said Belmonte.
Belmonte said he was holding any action against the congressional staffers until after the NBI has finalized its probe.
“I prefer first of all the NBI get to the bottom of it. I certainly don’t like to preempt them and to appear like I’m protecting anybody. That’s why it is better if they will be the one to investigate,” he added.
Nuño, a neophyte lawmaker who used to serve as councilor, said she was “shocked” that one of her “office clerks,” Raza, had in his possession the Saros meant for Cagayan Valley.
Nuño claimed that Raza and three other staff members in her Batasan office were holdovers from her predecessor and party-mate, Erbie Fabian of the Nacionalista Party.
She said she took in Raza, who has been working in Congress since 2007, because he was recommended by Fabian.
Nuño said she did not know that his staff was the “Manny” being investigated in the Saro scam until she was told by reporters.
Leave of absence
In a letter addressed to Nuño Tuesday afternoon, Raza requested a monthlong leave of absence to clear his name and spare her office from “unfair publicity.”
Raza wrote that it was “unfortunate” that his name was dragged into the scam but he did not say why he had the fake Saros worth P161 million for Cagayan Valley.
Nuño acknowledged that she had a pending request for P20 million farm-to-market road projects from the DA this year but she could not say if Raza already had the Saros for this project.
The lawmaker said that she was unfamiliar with the Saro process as she had not received any pork barrel since coming into office in July.
Like Nuño, Alfonso denied having any knowledge of the fake Saros although two of her staff members, Pelonio and Arao, had been identified as having handled the fake Saros, which serve as proof that a state project poised for bidding had already been earmarked for funding for the year.
Originally posted: 8:16 pm | Tuesday, December 3rd, 2013