Officials of the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) were issued subpoenas by the National Bureau of Investigation to give light into the fake Special Allotment Release Orders (SAROs) worth P879 million for farm-to-market-road projects in four regions.
NBI Officer-in-Charge Medardo de Lemos told The Manila Times that the officials are directed to appear before the NBI probe panel on December 2.
“We want to know how this SARO is being processed,” de Lemos said, adding that those invited are not necessarily suspects or witnesses.
He said the “unreleased and unsigned” SARO was brought to the attention of NBI on October 23 and immediately the country’s premier investigation agency started its probe.
De Lemos did not name the DBM officials who were summoned, but The Times learned that among those was a certain Rosalinda Eduardo who works in the office of Assistant Secretary Luz Cantor, the supposed signatory to SARO releases.
A SARO is a “specific authority issued to one or more identified agencies to incur obligations not exceeding a given amount during a specified period for the purpose indicated,” as shown in a Commission on Audit guidelines.
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima earlier said that 12 to 13 fake SAROs were presented to field officers of the Department of Agriculture, including Cagayan (Region 2) where a staffer of a still unidentified member of the Lower House was trying to follow up on SARO releases.
De Lemos said NBI Anti-Graft Division chief lawyer Romulo Asis is on top of the SARO probe.
Asis, when sought by The Times, refused to give details of the three-week old probe. He, however, said that they expect to finish the investigation “as soon as possible.”
Asis admitted that several subpoenas were already issued and that the DBM is closely participating with the probe.
Meanwhile, a NBI source who asked not to be named told The Times that it could be easier to unlock the modus operandi of the fake SAROs if only the Cagayan Valley incident was allowed to be consummated.
“If it was reported to us earlier, we could have followed the modus operandi. Since the crime was not consummated, it is now difficult to establish their scheme,” the source said.
“They [DBM officials] refused to fund the fake SARO. We could put up an entrapment operation,” Asis said.
Another NBI lawyer, who also asked not to be named, said only falsification of public documents on the part of private individuals could be charged against the perpetrator. A case of premature disclosure is the only case to be filed against any DBM official.
However, if the modus operandi is widespread involving more regions, a conspiracy must have existed between DBM employees and officials, and the lawmaker and his personnel, the source added.
De Lima suspected that an inside job could be possible at the DBM, the source of the fake SARO, which resembles the original document like the amount and signatories, except the font used.
Jaime R. Pilapil