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DBM Saro Gang unmasked

Group ‘Supremo’ a woman–De Lima
By: - Reporter / @JeromeAningINQ
/ 03:17 AM December 28, 2013

Justice Secretary Leila de Lima. INQUIRER FILE PHOTO

The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) has pinpointed some of the members of the “Saro Gang” alleged to be  responsible for the photocopying of original special allotment release orders (Saro) to secure the release of congressional pork barrel funds for public  projects.

Justice Secretary Leila de Lima on Friday confirmed to reporters the existence of a fake Saro syndicate composed of employees of the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) and congressional staff.

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“We’re looking at a driver and a janitor in the office of [Budget] Undersecretary Mario Relampagos.  We have their names but we can’t reveal them yet.  The NBI is still looking into other personnel,” she said.

Asked how highly-placed the people involved are, De Lima replied: “We’re looking into that.”

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As to whether any lawmakers are involved, she said: “So far there’s no indication that congressmen knew.”

As for the mastermind of the scam, known only by the code name “Supremo,” De Lima said that “insiders” interviewed by investigators have named a woman. De Lima declined to elaborate.

“No further details until further validations,” she said.

Modus operandi

A Saro is a document issued by the DBM that allows the release of lump-sum funds, such as that from a senator’s or a congressman’s pork barrel allotment, officially known as the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF). Its release paves the way for the issuance of a notice of cash allocation (NCA) which in turn triggers the release of the funds.

The Saro Gang’s modus operandi is to photocopy advance copies of the Saros and turn them over to their contacts in the congressional offices where signatures are superimposed to make the documents appear genuine.

The congressional contact then shows the copy of the Saro to the local executive where the project is located who in turn shows it to a contractor who will then advance at least 20 percent of the cost of the project.

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The contractor will then be awarded the project and will get paid upon the issuance of the NCA.

“The NBI is now looking for the office where the signatures are faked. Is it inside the DBM or outside?” De Lima said.

“Part of the probe [is to determine] how long this has been going on and if there were fake Saros that were [encashed],” she added.

She believes the reason the syndicate was resorting to faking Saros was so they could give advance information to the contractors “so that percentages (kickbacks) can be negotiated.”

Report due end of January

The NBI investigation covers Saros issued in Cagayan Valley worth P161 million and in Western Visayas worth P77 million.

De Lima said the NBI would try its best to submit a report on the fake Saro investigation by the end of January next year.

When the scam was uncovered last October, the DBM quickly canceled 12 Saros covering P875 million worth of farm-to-market projects, the funds for which have not yet been released nor signed by the authorized signatory, then Assistant Secretary Luz Cantor.

De Lima earlier said she believed the scam was hatched by DBM insiders.

Several DBM employees subpoenaed by the NBI have appeared before the bureau with their lawyers and gave statements to the investigating team.

RELATED STORIES:

DBM ‘Xerox gang’ out to get Saro info–Abad

Lawmaker’s aides under probe over fake Saro

P879-M fund release by DBM investigated

 First posted 12:15 am | Saturday, December 28th, 2013

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TAGS: Department of Budget and Management, Leila de Lima, lump-sum funds, NCA, notice of cash allocation, PDAF, pork barrel funds, Priority Development Assistance Fund, SARO, Saro gang, special allotment release orders
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