• DBM official probed for fake SAROs

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    THE National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) will question an undersecretary of the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) as it looks into the faking of special allotment release orders (SAROs).

    According to Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, Budget Undersecretary Mario Relampagos is the highest-ranking official being probed in connection with the controversy.

    In November last year, the NBI summoned several budget officials to explain the P879-million worth of fake SAROs for farm-to-market-road projects in Cagayan Valley and Western Visayas.

    “Given the involvement of some of his personnel, Usec Relampagos is inevitably covered by the NBI’s ongoing probe,” de Lima said.

    She did not say if the investigation will include Budget Secretary Florencio Abad and other DBM officials.

    “The core factual issues are: Does he [Relampagos] know about the shenanigans of his subordinates? Did he tolerate the same? Worse, did he benefit from those corrupt practices?” de Lima said.

    Relampagos is the first Budget official to come under fire in connection with the pork barrel fund scam.

    De Lima earlier said the inquiry also covers the budget official’s secretary, driver and janitor. The DOJ, however, withheld their names.

    The SARO is a document released by the DBM for government projects, including those funded by Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), authorizing the implementing agencies to bid for the projects. The SARO is required before the DBM issues the Notice of Cash Allocation to allow the release of funds.

    De Lima suspected that the release of fake SAROs could be the work of a Budget insider.

    “After the SAROs were photocopied several times, the fake signatures would seem to appear authentic already,” she said.

    The DBM last week announced that departments and agencies no longer need SAROs to get funds because the 2014 budget acts as the government’s official budget release document.

    Palace officials said the abolition of SAROs could reduce corruption and speed up the implementation of government projects.

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