De Lima on fake SAROs: DBM staff has to be involved
The NBI is also looking into the alleged proliferation of fake SAROs in Calabarzon, Western Visayas, and Soccsksargen

INSIDE JOB? Justice Secretary Leila De Lima says the NBI has started questioning DBM officials as part of the ongoing investigation into the existence of fake SAROs to mayors for farm to market roads in Region 2. File photo by Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – Is the alleged release of fake special allotment release orders (SARO) to mayors an inside job at the Department of Budget and Management (DBM)? 

This is one of the angles being pursued by the National Bureau of Investigation as it probes a case involving the alleged release of a bogus SARO for P879 million worth of farm-to-market roads in Region II (Cagayan Valley) containing signatures later found as fake by Department of Agricultures officials.

Mukhang mahirap paniwalaan, mukhang mahirap isipin, na walang involved na taga DBM dahil pag i-compare mo nga ‘yung kopya ng signed but fake SARO doon sa kopya ng original unsigned SARO and still unreleased and has been cancelled SARO, tumutugma lahat ng particulars,” Justice Secretary Leila de Lima told reporters on Tuesday, November 26. 

(It seems hard to believe, it seems hard to think, that no one from DBM is involved because if you compare the copy of signed but fake SARO to the copy of the original unsigned SARO and still unreleased and has been cancelled SARO, all the particulars match.)

A Philippine Daily Inquirer report on Monday, November 25, revealed the existence of an ongoing investigation into the fake SARO case in the midst of a supposed news blackout imposed by Budget Secretary Florencio Abad on the matter. 

In the report, Agriculture Secretary Prospero Alcala confirmed his department has asked DBM to cancel the SARO. 

De Lima said the Department of Agriculture (DA) was alerted of the bogus SARO after the staff of a congressman from Region II presented the document to a DA regional field unit. She declined to name the staff pending the investigation. 

“The director there alerted the main office of DA and the main office of DA inquired with DBM, so that’s when DBM discovered,” De Lima said. 

Tip of the iceberg?

The SARO was dated Oct 10, 2013, according to De Lima, but it was discovered by DA on October 18 – just 4 months after the multi-billion-peso pork barrel scam was exposed.  

Abad sent a request for investigation to the NBI on October 23, De Lima said. 

The case may only be the tip of the iceberg. NBI is also investigating the proliferation of fake SAROs in other regions, including Region IV-A (Calabarzon), Region VI (Western Visayas), and Region XII (Soccsksargen), De Lima said. 

“So where did [the SARO] come from? That’s what we want to know, and it would seem, according to NBI, they are also looking into certain regions that have raised alerts about the floating of presumably fake SAROs in 3 other regions,” De Lima said. “Although I’m not sure if the NBI already has a copy of the SAROs.”

The NBI has summoned DBM officials and employees for the investigation.

“So, that’s the starting point of the NBI investigation. They are tracing, and in fact, they were able to talk already to some staff and officials who are part of those offices,” De Lima said. “It looks like that SARO went through more than one office within DBM when it was processed.” 

Authorities are not discounting other motives for the case. 

“October na-file na first PDAF [cases], na-expose na kalokohan na ‘yan. So, ano ‘yan? May agenda ba ‘yan? Sinusubukan na naman ba magnakaw sa kaban ng bayan o mayroong iba? We cannot rule out other agenda,”De Lima said. (October, the first batch of PDAF cases were already filed, the scheme was already exposed. So, what is it? Is there an agenda? Are they trying to steal from public coffers again or is there something else?) Angela Casauay/

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