Abad, Singson linked to right-of-way ‘scam’
The government spent some P8.7 billion for road right-of-way covered by alleged spurious land titles in General Santos City in a “scam” supposedly involving two trusted lieutenants of former President Benigno Aquino III, Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II said on Friday.
Aguirre said in a news briefing that a “member of a criminal syndicate” behind the scam had been admitted to the witness protection program of the Department of Justice after he volunteered information on the supposed modus.
He said the whistle-blower named former Budget Secretary Florencio Abad and former Public Works Secretary Babes Singson as among those involved in the scheme, which supposedly started during the latter part of the administration of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in 2009.
Sought for comment, Abad dismissed the allegations as “baseless and therefore not true.”
“I and the DBM (Department of Budget and Management) were never part of the negotiations,” Abad said.
Singson said he was deferring comment on the issue because he had not seen the witness’ affidavit.
If the allegations are true, the fund racket could top the P10-billion pork barrel scam involving businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles and several senators and congressmen.
“This involved a series of transactions. I initially could not believe it when the witness (first) approached me. But this witness had complete and voluminous documents as evidence,” Aguirre told reporters.
“There is no place for corruption in government. President Duterte has made it very clear that stopping corruption in government is the centerpiece of this administration,” he said.
Asked if Singson and Abad had knowledge that the road projects in General Santos had bogus land titles, he said: “The witness said they were aware of the scam. That’s what the witness said when I interviewed him before he executed the affidavit.”
As to the possibility that the two former Aquino Cabinet members profited from the irregularity, the justice secretary said: “That’s the implication, that they really earned from it.”
Quoting the witness’ testimony, Aguirre said Singson recommended the expropriation of several private properties for the road projects in General Santos and asked for the release of the payment.
Abad, on the other hand, “apparently approved the release of the payment for illegal road right-of-way claims,” he added.
Aguirre urged other possible witnesses to come forward since it was possible that the same modus was also done in public infrastructure projects in other parts of the country.
“The witness said the release of the payment took just a few days,” Aguirre said.
“You can’t do that and collect a huge sum of money without everybody in conspiracy. That’s why there’s really collusion among the perpetrators,” he said.
He said the witness identified Wilma Mamburan, a certain Col. Chino Mamburan, Merceditas Dumlao and Nelson Ti as those who operated the scheme.
Ti, the group’s alleged financier, was said to be a relative of a Domingo Lee, the former Philippine ambassador to China and “is supposedly close to” Aquino.
“The members of the syndicate would submit fake land titles in the name of nonexistent persons, or not the real landowners. The syndicate would then secure payment (from the government) using fake land titles,” said the justice secretary.
Besides officials of the Department of Public Works and Highways, and the DBM, Aguirre said executives of the Bureau of Internal Revenue, the Registry of Deeds, the Commission on Audit and the City Assessor’s Office of General Santos were also possibly involved in the crime.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.