De Castro: No VIP treatment for GA; Senators disagree

Ayee Macaraig
The former vice president insists that Pag-IBIG did not give special treatment to Delfin Lee's Globe Asiatique, which is accused of siphoning off P7B in loans through ghost borrowers

VIP? Senators question former vice president and Pag-IBIG head Noli de Castro about the alleged special treatment the housing fund gave embattled property firm Globe Asiatique.

MANILA, Philippines – Out of over 200 developers, why did Delfin Lee’s property firm secure a unique deal with Pag-IBIG Fund that allowed it to obtain funds 10 times higher than usual?

Former Vice President Noli de Castro insisted that Pag-IBIG Fund under his leadership did not give “special treatment” to Globe Asiatique Realty Holdings Corp (GARHC). Yet senators questioned the basis for what they called a “special relationship.”

Senator Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III asked the former Pag-IBIG Fund chairman to explain why the agency gave “preferential treatment” to Lee’s firm. GARHC is accused of using ghost borrowers and fake documents to obtain P7 billion in loans from Pag-IBIG Fund from 2008 to 2010.

Watch this report below.

Pimentel asked about a 2009 Memorandum of Agreement between Pag-IBIG Fund and GARHC that allowed the company to be the only developer to obtain P5 billion in loans and a 5-year buy-back guarantee. Under the usual arrangement, other developers could only loan a maximum of P500 million a year from Pag-IBIG and have a two-year buy-back guarantee.

The broadcaster-turned-politician-turned-broadcaster-again said Lee’s Xevera development in Mabalacat, Pampanga became a “special program” because of its complete amenities. (READ: GA homeowners: Lee must suffer like we do)

Walang special treatment, only a special program dahil ang project ay township: may munisipyo, plaza. Ito ang pangarap na development ng developers,” De Castro said.

(There is no special treatment, only a special program because this project is a township: there is a municipal hall, plaza. This is the dream of developers.)

Yet Pimentel pointed out that the previous GA Xevera project approved in 2008 in Bacolor, Pampanga was also a township project. At this point, De Castro gave another justification: that the 2009 program was catered to so-called Other Working Group, referring to the informal sector.

Senators asked De Castro whether or not Pag-IBIG did “due diligence” on GARHC.

The question was prompted by Lee’s admission in the Senate investigation in the 15th Congress that it was actually his company, not Pag-IBIG members, that paid monthly amortizations to maintain its good standing with the agency.

In response, De Castro said, “Yes, sir. The management of Pag-IBIG did that (due diligence) before facing the board. If there was no due diligence, they will be embarrassed before the board. Every time we face management, I believe that they did due diligence and the information we got from them is our basis for approving a program or not.”

Yet current Pag-IBIG Fund President Darlene Marie Berberabe later pointed out that Pag-IBIG’s managers even including the deputy CEO were dismissed and included in the estafa charges filed against Lee. (READ: SC: Pursue raps vs Delfin Lee co-accused)

Red flags unchecked

With top Pag-IBIG officials charged, didn’t De Castro notice the irregularities?

Ngayon ko lang naririnig ang problema. Nung nangyari ito, patapos na ang term ko so election mode na ang mga tao, sa media ko na lang narinig problema,” De Castro said.

(It is only now that I am hearing the problems. When this happened, my term was about to end and people were on election mode so it was only in the media when I heard of the problems.)

De Castro denied involvement in the scam, saying he only met Lee when he was invited as a special guest in the inauguration of GARHC’s projects.

Pimentel asked De Castro why Pag-IBIG Fund cut short the initial “pilot program” of GARHC in 2008 worth P2 billion. Instead of checking the two-year performance of this program, Pag-IBIG signed the 2009 MOA with Lee’s firm for a new P5 billion program and even lengthened the time to 5 years.

Yet De Castro said he was unaware of the first pilot program and passed on the questions to Berberabe.

Pimentel said, “P2 billion is a big amount. Who evaluated the borrowers?”

Berberabe responded, “It was GA as well.”

Pimentel said, “Should this not be a red flag? What’s a red flag? Unless from the point of view of the agency, P2 billion is a small amount. P2 billion was taken for granted.”

De Castro and Berberabe explained that the Pag-IBIG officials then relied on the 95% score of Lee’s firm in being able to pay its loans. Senate housing committee JV Ejercito said this was because it was Lee paying the amortizations.

Pimentel asked the Senate committee to summon former Pag-IBIG Fund President Jaime Fabiana, who signed the 2009 MOA with Lee.

Fabiana replaced Marikina Representative Romero “Miro” Quimbo, who resigned after overseeing GARHC’s first pilot project in 2008.

‘Perfect crime’

After the scam, Berberabe said Pag-IBIG Fund already abolished the scheme that allowed developers to process and screen applications from Pag-IBIG Fund members. The agency also now checks the financial capability of borrowers before releasing funds.

Ejercito said the Pag-IBIG officials should have known that the GARHC’s program was “too good to be true.” Yet he said he is still studying the liability of De Castro.

The senator said his committee was not after “prosecution or persecution” but an inquiry in aid of legislation.

“Maybe we can’t blame the heads of agency because this is the perfect crime with GA having a performance ratio of 95% and above, almost 100%. So maybe the officials were easily impressed. If you do not study or investigate it well, you will be easily convinced,” Ejercito said. –

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