9 Region 12 solons alarmed over road scam

MANILA -- Nine congressmen from the Region 12 or Soccsksargen (South Cotabato, Cotabato City, North Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, Sarangani, and General Santos City) expressed alarmed over the fake road right-of-way (RROW) claims for government in General Santos and other areas in the region.

This, according to Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II after House Deputy Speaker Ferdinand Hernandez of the Second District of South Cotabato and eight other legislators sought action against the scam even before witness Roberto Catapang Jr. spoke about the anomalies in General Santos City.

Aside from Hernandez, the eight congressmen are Deputy Speaker and First District Rep. Maguindanao and Cotabato City Bai Sandra Sema; First District North Cotabato Rep. Jesus Sacdalan; Second District North Cotabato Nancy Catamco; Third District North Cotabato Rep. Jose Tejada; First District South Cotabato and General Santos City Rep. Pedro Acharon Jr.; First District Sultan Kudarat Rep. Suharto Mangundadatu; Second Distric Sultan Kudarat Rep. Horacio Suansing Jr.; and lone district Sarangani Province Rep. Rogelio Ruel Pacquiao.

Aguirre said the information was relayed to him by Hernandez last Nov. 28 when he went to the House of Representatives and gave his testimony to the Committee on Justice hearing on the impeachment case against Supreme Court (SC) Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno.

The contents of the letter support the allegations of our whistle blower, Roberto S. Catapang that numerous transactions involving billions of pesos concerning right of way claims before the DPWH are possibly tainted with irregularities, Aguirre said in a statement.

Resultantly, it becomes more imperative that we get to the bottom of this issue since a large sum of money from the coffers of our government are involved, he said.

As I have said before, corruption, then and now, must be punished, he added.

Last July 27, the legislators sent a three-page letter dated July 24, 2017 to Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) Secretary Mark Villar informing him of their suspicion about the RROW illegalities in their areas.

The solons, in their letter, had asked DPWH Secretary Villar and DPWH Region 12 Director Basir Ibrahim to temporarily stop the release of RROW claims in the region based on the allegations that numerous transactions involving billions of pesos concerning right-of-way claims before the DPWH-12 are possibly tainted with irregularities. According to reports, most of the claims are either spurious or are based on fabricated documents.

The legislators added that they are not discounting the possibility that a syndicate, which has been operating for several years now, may be involved in the RROW claim scam.

Moreover, considering that billions of public funds are concerned, it is utterly possible that a syndicate is behind these dealings and that these transactions are being done in large scale for a number of years now. It is thus proper to urgently conduct a thorough audit of all transactions of the same nature in order to determine the gravity and magnitude of the controversy and validate the same, they added.

Considering that a syndicate could be behind this for a number of years in siphoning billions of pesos of public funds, the legislators said it is proper to urgently conduct a thorough audit of all transactions of the same nature in order to determine the gravity and magnitude of the controversy and validate the same.

Aguirre has already ordered the NBI to investigate the scam while Catapang has already been placed under the Witness Protection Program (WPP).

Those who would be found liable could be prosecuted for committing crimes under Republic Act no. 3019 otherwise known as the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.

The criminal syndicate purportedly submitted fake titles in the name of non-existent persons to allow them to claim from DPWH just compensation from the expropriation of land supposedly occupied by government projects.

Catapang said Eldon Cruz, brother-in-law of former President Benigno S. Aquino III, had endorsed the release of payments for the supposed bogus RROW claims.

Catapang who hails from Gen. Santos City said he joined the syndicate back in 2009 but left the group.

He said since then the syndicate collected PHP8.7 billion from around 300 bogus RROW claims in Gen. Santos City.

Catapang said the properties were covered by specious land titles and other documents which he and other members of their group had manufactured in connivance with corrupt government employees.

He, however, admitted that he never met Cruz nor saw him speak with public officials to help facilitate multimillion-peso transactions at the DPWH and the Department of Budget and Management (DBM).

Former Department of Budget and Management (DBM) Secretary Florencio Abad and former Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) Secretary Rogelio Singson are among those who are being investigated and have been included in the Bureau of Immigration's Immigration Lookout Bulletin (BI-ILBO).

Aguirre said the allegations in the sworn statement of Catapang including the amount taken from government coffers, are serious allegations that should be looked into in line with the President Rodrigo Duterte's directive to wage war on corruption, then and now.

I am reiterating once again my call to all who have personal knowledge of this RROW scam to come forward and to tell the truth. When the government is defrauded, it is really the Filipino people who are really defrauded. Our office is open to you, we will listen to you and more importantly, we will protect you via the WPP, Aguirre added.

Source: Philippine News Agency