Noli de Castro to attend Senate housing scam probe

MANILA, Philippines – Former Vice President and housing czar Noli de Castro confirmed that he will attend the Senate’s new investigation into the P6.6 billion housing scam involving Globe Asiatique (GA).

Senate urban planning, housing and resettlement committee chairman JV Ejercito said De Castro sent word accepting the invitation to the hearing on Tuesday, April 8.

As vice president during the Arroyo administration, the broadcaster-turned-politician-turned media practitioner again was chairman of the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC), and ex-officio chairman of the Home Development Mutual Fund or Pag-IBIG Fund when the scam allegedly occurred.  He is now back as anchor of ABS-CBN's flagship newscast TV Patrol. 

“Former Vice President Noli de Castro, former HUDCC chair in the previous administration, has signified his intention to come tomorrow to air his side,” Ejercito said in an interview on ANC on Monday, April 7.

The Senate is reopening its investigation into the scam, where Globe Asiatique and its president Delfin Lee allegedly used ghost borrowers to obtain P6.6 billion loans from Pag-IBIG Fund for housing projects in Pampanga from 2008 to 2011. Besides the use of ghost borrowers, GA allegedly engaged in the double and triple sale of properties, leading to the loss of homeowners’ hard-earned money.

Ejercito said Lee will not attend the hearing because his committee was unable to issue a subpoena for the property developer, who is detained in Pampanga after his arrest on March 6. The senator said the committee sent an invitation to the justice department but Lee is under the custody of the Pampanga Regional Trial Court.

Lee’s lawyer Willie Rivera said his client was willing to face the Senate but they belatedly got the notice from the committee.

I am not expecting him tomorrow because he is now under detention. We know that in these cases, there is a process we have to follow … so tomorrow we will first establish the jurisdiction under this committee of this case so we can invite the personalities including Mr Delfin Lee,” Ejercito added.

Besides De Castro, also attending the hearing are current housing officials including Pag-IBIG Fund President and CEO lawyer Darlene Marie Berberabe, and Land Registration Authority (LRA) officials in Pampanga.

Victims of the scam and ghost buyers also confirmed their attendance.

Ejercito told Rappler that the committee will not summon then Pag-IBIG President now Marikina Representative Romero “Miro” Quimbo of the ruling Liberal Party (LP) because of inter-parliamentary courtesy.

“I did not invite him but if he wants to come, he is welcome. We are observing courtesy,” Ejercito said in a phone interview.

Lee’s arrest, ‘delisting’ also to be probed

The Senate first investigated the scam in 2010 under the leadership of then Senate committee on banks chairman Sergio “Serge” Osmeña III. Osmeña’s committee found that mismanagement and corruption caused the scam, with Pag-IBIG officials conniving with Lee.

After Lee’s arrest, Ejercito called for a new Senate investigation, saying he wanted to investigate Pag-IBIG Fund’s policies on how the double sale and use of ghost borrowers occurred to protect the public from the “manipulative and anomalous housing loan scheme.”

On Monday, Ejercito said he also wants to invite the leadership of the Philippine National Police (PNP) to look into Lee's controversial arrest.

“We also want them to shed light on the issue regarding the arrest of Delfin Lee and the alleged intent to delist Mr Lee from the list of wanted persons,” Ejercito added.

Lee’s arrest was contentious because his lawyers clashed with the police and Pag-IBIG Fund on whether the warrant was still valid after the Court of Appeals cleared him in the syndicated estafa case. Yet Pag-IBIG Fund and the police argued that the decision was under appeal before the Supreme Court, and the Pampanga court did not quash the warrant.

Now Pag-IBIG chairman Vice President Jejomar Binay also claimed that “powerful people” were trying to save Lee. Oriental Mindoro Governor Alfonso Umali of LP later admitted to calling the police chief to inquire about Lee’s arrest.

Lee’s lawyer Rivera claimed that his client was “singled out” because Lee’s daughter Divine was close to Korina Sanchez, wife of Interior Secretary Mar Roxas. Roxas is Binay’s bitter political rival.

Rivera added that other developers also availed themselves of loans under Pag-IBIG Fund’s express funding window and would have encountered the same controversy had Pag-IBIG cancelled their contracts as it did with GA.

Ejercito responded, “Why where the other developers able to settle their obligations and no scandal erupted? That’s why we want to look into the matter because it seems it’s too good to be true.”

Incidentally, Ejercito is a political ally of Binay.

Pag-IBIG’s safeguards

In a previous statement, Binay’s office quoted Berberabe as saying that Pag-IBIG Fund already put in place the following safeguards to avoid a repeat of the scam: