Belmonte sees lawmakers as 'victims' in fake Saros scam

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Wednesday, December 4, 2013

SPEAKER Feliciano Belmonte Jr. on Wednesday said the House of Representatives is not inclined to conduct its independent investigation into the scam involving fake Special Allotment Release Orders (Saros) as lawmakers themselves are mere "victims."

Staff members of at least three incumbent House members have been tagged in the fake Saro scam prompting Belmonte to talk to officials of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) probing the bogus Saros worth P879 million for farm-to-market roads.

"They (NBI) are not investigating a single congressman. They are trying to get a statement of some employees but the congressmen themselves, I'm very certain that perhaps they are potential victims... Let me clarify that congressmen are not being checked. It is their offices and their employees which are being checked," Belmonte said.

The Saro is a document issued by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) allowing the release of government funds for lump sum items, including the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) or congressional pork barrel.

Earlier, Belmonte released a statement explaining the involvement of the staff of Zamboanga City Representative Lilia Macrohon-Nuño and Cagayan Representative Baby Aline Vargas-Alfonso.

Belmonte said the fake Saro came from Emmanuel Raza, a staff of Nuño. It was Raza who requested Jose Badong, an employee of the House appropriations committee, if he knew someone from Vargas-Alfonso's staff "because he (Raza) has a copy of the Saro for Region 2."

"Badong, who knew Bong Pelonio, Vargas-Alfonso's chief of staff, gave the alleged Saro to Mr. Pelonio," Belmonte said.

Raza has filed a one-month leave Tuesday and has not showed up at the NBI, Belmonte said, while Badong has since been transferred to the Office of the Secretary General.

Nuño said she only inherited Raza from her predecessor, former representative Erico Fabian. She also appealed to Raza, who last showed up at her office Monday this week, to go to the NBI.

"If he's not guilty, he has to go there and say his peace. That's not for me to do it for him... I never realized the extent of the damage he has done to my office; not only to the office but to the institution itself," Nuño told reporters.

Belmonte meanwhile had already asked the NBI to look for Raza.

"He's been around. Certainly, he's somebody that should come out and tell us and I asked the NBI to look for him and not just await for his promised coming and showing up for an interview which he has not done," he said.

Belmonte said a staff of Aklan Representative Teodorico Haresco, Jr. is also being investigated by the authorities but as to his involvement to the fake Saro scam is still unclear to him.

The Speaker assured that the House of Representatives will keep a close track on the NBI probe as the institution itself would like to find out how copies of unreleased Saros end up with the congressmen's staff.

"Obviously, all of these (Saros) are in the DBM and they are still unreleased in the DBM and what we are trying to find out are how are copies of these unreleased documents show up and I know one for sure and I hear two from another congressman," Belmonte said.

Deputy Minority Leader and Bayan Muna party-list Representative Neri Colmenares said that while they would like to find out who are behind the Saro "syndicate", they are not keen in a separate congressional investigation.

"It's difficult for the House to investigate itself because it will be perceived as self-serving and whether or not it's true, that will be the perception. But if the investigation is not satisfactory, we still reserve the right to file a resolution for the (House) investigation," Colmenares said.

ACT Teachers party-list Representative Antonio Tinio, for his part, said he would like the NBI to find out who the brains behind the scam is.

"It's a syndicate because there's a conspiracy. Ang tanong dito, sino yung pinuno?" Tinio said. (Sunnex)

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