MANILA— Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre on Friday said two former Cabinet members during the Aquino administration may face criminal liability for their alleged involvement in fake road right-of-way (RROW) claims for government projects amounting to PHP8.7 billion in General Santos City.
Aguirre said they based on the testimony of a witness now under the custody of the Department of Justice (DOJ), former Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) Secretary Rogelio Singson and former Budget Secretary Florencio Abad approved and requested the payment of fake RROW.
“Based on their signatures in the documents submitted to the National Bureau of Investigation (NB)I and on the sinumpaang salaysay of our witness, some high ranking officials of the previous administration may have potential liabilities like former DPWH Secretary Rogelio Singson who apparently approved and requested the release of payment of fake RROW claims,” Aguirre told reporters during the press conference held at DOJ.
Singson and Abad “may face potential criminal liability” for the scam that has defrauded government of at least PHP8.7-billion, covering more than 300 folders, based on the testimony of a witness “who is personally involved” in the syndicate, Aguirre said.
He said former Budget Secretary Abad who apparently approved the release of payment for illegal RROW claims as requested by Singson.
“Based on initial reports submitted to me by the NBI, this criminal syndicate purportedly submitted fake titles in the name of non-existent persons to allow them to claim from the DPWH the just compensation from the expropriation of land which will be supposedly occupied by government projects,” he explained.
According to Aguirre the modus operandi of this syndicate is that it claims for ‘just compensation’ of road right of way which are intended for rightful owners who were affected by national highway construction at General Santos City.
The witness narrated how members of the syndicate would submit fake titles in the name of non-existent persons or not real landowners.
The syndicate would then allegedly secure payment using fake land titles. The scheme reportedly began in 2009.
“We have information that one claim for “just compensation” amounts to PHP29 million. From 2009 when the syndicate started to operate, the members of this syndicate were able to process more than 300 folders containing fake road-right-of-way amounting to more or less PHP8.7 billion,” Aguirre explained.
Aguirre said a witness gave the names of those allegedly involved namely: Wilma Mamburam, Col. Chino Mamburan, Merceditas Dumlao and Nelson Ti, who is the group’s financier, a close friend former President Aquino.
“Some of the persons named by our witness as being involved is a Wilma Mamburam, Col. Chino Mamburan, Merceditas Dumlao and Nelson Ti. Our witness further revealed that Mr. Nelso Ti, the financier of the group is a close relative of Domingo Lee, Philippine Envoy to China, and is supposedly close to former President Benigno Aquino III,” he said.
“I was also informed that for the syndicate to accomplish these apparently criminal acts, several public officials from the Department of Public Works and Highways, Bureau of Internal Revenue, the City Assessor’s Office of General Santos, the Registry of Deeds, the Commission on Audit and the Regional Trial Courts have been identified by the said witness as having participated in the processing, approval and eventual release of payments to cover these dubious claims,” Aguirre added.
Aguirre refused to provide details about the witness who is now under Witness Protection Program but will be presented to the media next week.
“I have ordered the provisional admission of the witness to our Witness Protection Program for his protection and security,” he said.
Aguirre also ordered the NBI to investigate the scam, and look into the possibility the same modus is happening in other parts of the country, as he called on “all other persons who have personal knowledge of this scam to come forward and to communicate what they know to help us further solidify the case that we will file.
When sought for comments, Abad denied the allegations.
“The accusation is baseless and therefore not true. I and the DBM were never part of the negotiations for that transaction. The DPWH will be in the best position to shed light on the issue. If I am not mistaken, that case is already pending with the Ombudsman,” Abad said in a text message to reporters.
Singson, on the other hand, refused to give a statement.
“Sorry, I will have to look at the documents so I can comment,” he said.