The Department of Budget and Management (DBM) cannot escape responsibility for the proliferation of fake Special Allotment Release Orders (SAROs) which were used to authorize releases from the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), opposition lawmakers said Thursday.
Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares and Alliance of Concerned Teachers’ Antonio Tinio zeroed in on the Budget department as the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) probes four congressional staff members found to have possession of 12 fake SAROs.
The DBM issues a SARO to allow a government agency to bid out the projects, including those funded by PDAF.
Based on the SARO, the Budget agency issues a Notice of Cash Allocation for the release the fund for the projects.
Colmenares believes a syndicate might be behind the issuance of fake release orders “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 (COA) 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 said, referring to Budget Secretary Florencio Abad.
The COA reported that the fake SAROs were found on Emmanuel Raza, a staffer of Zamboanga City Rep. Lilia Nuño, Mary Anne Castillo, from the office of Aklan Rep. Teodorico Haresco and two others working for Rep. Baby Alfonso-Vargas.
Haresco said he was not aware the SARO that Castillo, his consultant, received was fake.
The SARO authorized P10 million released from Haresco’s PDAF for a farm-to-market improvement/rehabilitation project in Balete, Aklan.
He said the document appeared authentic because it had a serial number, bar code, reference number and was 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 that the SARO was not authentic.
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.
Pelonio emailed the document to her staffer Amador Enrico Arao who submitted it 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.