The ax should fall on the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) over the proliferation of fake Special Allotment Release Orders (SAROs) which are being used to secure releases from the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), opposition lawmakers said Thursday.
Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares and Alliance of Concerned Teachers’ Antonio Tinio made the stance in light of the National Bureau of Investigation’s probe on four congressional staff members found to have possession of 12 fake SAROs.
A SARO, which the DBM issues to the implementing agencies of government projects, including those funded by PDAF—authorizes the implementing agencies to bid out the projects.
The SARO needs to be obligated by the DBM before it issues the Notice of Cash Allocation for the release the fund for the projects.
“I would say that is a syndicate because the system is complicated, if not sophisticated. You have to know someone from the DBM, from the implementing government agencies. To facilitate such scheme, there must be a conspiracy between various offices and first persons,” Colmenares, the House Deputy Minority Leader, said in an interview.
Tinio said the DBM has long been remiss in disbursing SAROs, citing a 2011 Commission on Audit report that there are 3,158 SAROs which are unaccounted for.
“In such a situation, you can imagine that it would be easy to fake these SAROs if the DBM itself cannot keep track of SAROs that it issues. The ultimate responsibility is with the DBM, particularly the Secretary,” Tinio argued, referring to Budget Secretary Florencio Abad.
The COA reported that the fake SAROs were found on Emmanuel Raza, a staffer Zamboanga City Rep. Lilia Nuño, Mary Anne Castillo, from the office of Aklan Rep. Teodorico Haresco and two others from the Office of Rep. Baby Alfonso-Vargas.
Haresco said he wasn’t aware that the SARO delivered to his office and received by his consultant Castillo was fake.
He said that SARO, which provides P10-million funding for a farm-to-market improvement/rehabilitation project in Balete, Aklan, appeared authentic since it had a serial number, bar code, reference number and initialed by a DBM official.
Haresco’s office took the SARO to the Department of Agriculture so that the project can be bidded out by the District Engineering Office. Haresco’s office was later informed by the NBI last November 28 to raise the alarm that the SARO was fake.
Vargas said she too did not know the SARO coursed to her office by Raza was fake.
The SARO for four projects in her district amounting to P30.6 million was handed to her Chief-of-Staff Abraham Pelonio by House Appropriations panel’s Badong.
Her staff Pelonio emailed the document to her local staff Amador Enrico Arao who submitted the SARO to the Regional Office of the Department of Agriculture.
“If the said SARO was fake, as claimed by the DBM, there was no damage incurred by the government because no money has been expended to implement the same. Such declaration only meant that we in Region 2 would have to wait further if the identified projects requested by our constituents will ever be implemented within the year 2013 or in the coming years,” Vargas said in a statement.
LLANESCA T. PANTI