NBI files plunder complaint vs ex-DPWH chief Singson over right-of-way scam

Lian Buan
NBI files plunder complaint vs ex-DPWH chief Singson over right-of-way scam
The NBI says it is coordinating with AMLC to establish direct evidence that Singson et al pocketed the money

MANILA, Philippines – The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) on Wednesday, March 21, filed a plunder complaint against former Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) secretary Rogelio Singson over the P255-million right of way scam.

It is part of an alleged P8-billion scam that involved fake compensation claims on lands used for government projects.

Thirty-three other former and current DPWH officials face the plunder complaint, on top of a graft complaint. The current officials also face the administrative charge of grave misconduct.

Former budget secretary Florencio “Butch” Abad was not included in the first batch of complaints, but he had been tagged earlier as being allegedly part of the scam by Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II.

What’s the scam all about? A witness named Roberto Catapang came forward to say he used to work for a syndicate group that works with DPWH officials in filing for bogus claims in right-of-way projects.

The syndicate leader was identified as a certain Wilma Mamburam.

The NBI said they were initially looking at 50 titles but as of now, only 9 titles have been found to be spurious or fake. This amounts to P255 million worth of compensation which has been released.

Not only were the documents fake, Catapang said the claimants were also fake.

The claims in this complaint are from General Santos City affected by the construction of the Digos-Makar-Buayan National Road.

The NBI said the Office of the Register of Deeds of General Santos certified just last March 16 that the transfers of titles – which would lawfully transfer ownership to the government – of the 9 claims were not processed “and [they do] not exist in the record and the vault of the Registry of Deeds.”

How are Singson and the DPWH involved? The NBI has a letter from Singson to Abad on December 23, 2013, “requesting for the release of funds for the payment of the outstanding claims.” That letter involves the P255-million worth of claims.

“Abad granted the above-mentioned fund requested by Singson. The said amount was used to fund the 4th payments of the 9 claims being investigated. In March 2015, all 9 claims were fully paid,” the NBI said in its transmittal letter to the Office of the Ombudsman.

The NBI also cited a September 30, 2013 letter by Singson to the Land Registration Authority (LRA) requesting that a certification be issued to declare the titles genuine. There was a reply from LRA Computer Division Chief Ser John Pastrana certifying the titles as genuine.

However, Pastrana told the NBI this March that he never issued such a certification.

The NBI said that before the government pays compensation to claimants, it should make sure the deed of sale had been registered with the registry of deeds and the transfers of title already made in favor of the government.

“It appears from the investigation conducted that the foregoing procedures/requirements to safeguard the government from suffering undue injury had been blatantly disregarded by the government,” the NBI said.

Where is the money trail? Plunder as a law requires proof that at least P50 million was amassed as ill-gotten wealth.

In the pork barrel scam plunder trial, financial trail, bank evidence and testimonies of bank officials are the smoking guns of the prosecutors in trying to prove that the lawmakers pocketed the money.

Wala pa tayong direct evidence na ganyan (we have no such direct evidence), but we are coordinating with the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC),” said lawyer Mamerto Telio, the investigator from the NBI-National Capital Region

Antonio Pagatpat, the deputy director for Regional Operation Service, said: “Maliwanag ito eh, na-release yung pera, ‘yung nag-claim hindi sila ang may-ari. The money was released doon sa mga hindi tamang claimants dahil hindi sa kanila ang lupa.”

(This is clear, the money was released, the claimants were not the real owners. The money was released to the wrong claimants because they did not own the lands.)

What was Singson’s answer? The NBI said it did not ask Singson for a counter-affidavit during their investigation.

But at a Senate inquiry December last year, Singson said they resumed payment of claims in 2013 “after we were satisfied with the validity and authenticity of the claims based on the supporting titles from the LRA.”

“I was not a corrupt secretary and definitely not a plunderer,” he said. – Rappler.com 

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Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.