Ex-Vice President denies special treatment for Delfin Lee

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Wednesday, April 9, 2014


CITY OF SAN FERNANDO -- Former Vice President Noli de Castro said Tuesday that "no special treatment" was given to Globe Asiatique (GA) Realty Holdings Corp., a company owned by detained businessman Delfin Lee.

But de Castro admitted during a hearing of Senate committee on urban planning, housing and resettlements that Lee's project in Pampanga was a "special project" thus the firm was given an additional P5-billion in financing from the Home Development Mutual Fund (HDMF or Pag-Ibig fund) in 2009.

The ex-Vice-President, who was also the former chairman of the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC), described Xevera II in Mabalacat City as a township project, which will help cater to the working class considering that they have complete amenities.

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"Kinonsidera namin ito bilang special project dahil sa mas malaki ang pondo. Bukod pa sa kumpleto ito sa mga amenities kung saan ay mayroon palengke, eskwelahan, simbahan at marami pang ibang karagdagan tulong para sa ating mga kababayan partikular sa mga worker na nagnanais magkaroon ng reasonable bahay," said de Castro.

"Ang Pag-Ibig ay basically para sa mga empleyado. Naniniwala po kami na magiging maganda ang epekto nito para sa mga manggagawa dahil ang tinitingnan po namin dito ay yung mga dating problema na nabubulok na lamang ang mga bahay sa pagka remata at dahil nga may nakapaloob dito na buy-back bilang pinanghahawakan ng gobyerno ay naging kampante kami. Ang program na ito ay basically designed for the working group," de Castro added.

De Castro said that he first met Lee during inauguration of one of the GA projects but maintained that the businessman is not his personal friend.

It was revealed during the hearing that there were about 204 other real estate developers accredited by HMDF but only Globe Asiatique was given the privilege by the housing agency.

"Pilot project po kasi ito at nais namin makita ang epekto sa ating mga manggagawa. Nagkaroon na lamang po ito ng problema nuong patapos na ang termino ko bilang Vice President at head ng nasabing ahensiya pero nagsagawa po kami ng due diligence dito," said de Castro.

'Red Flag'

Pag-Ibig president Darlene Berberabe who also appeared during the hearing---and disclosed that GA was also given P2 billion worth of loans for its home buyers in 2008--- denied targeting Lee for political gain as she noted that Globe Asiatique was first investigated in mid-2010, or "way before any talk of politics in 2016."

Berberabe said Pag-Ibig, the Department of Justice and the Commission on Audit all evaluated independently the evidence on hand, which pointed to same conclusion of fraud by Lee and his cohorts.

She said that even a Regional Trial Court in Pampanga and Supreme Court had issued a temporary restraining order on all the cases that Lee had temporarily won in the Court of Appeals.

"With so many eyes, ears and brains pointing to the same conclusion, I do not see how they can claim there is no basis," said Berberabe.

She said they only realized that it is already a "red flag" after the P7 billion has already been withdrawn.

"Seven months after, several borrowers appeared in our office claiming that there were problems in acquisition as well as the bogus borrowers that we were able to discover," she said.

"Naniniwala kami na may ilan kasabwat na taga Pag-Ibig and all of them were also terminated in their work," she added.

After the controversy involving Globe Asiatique, the head of the Pag-Ibig Fund said they decided to implement strict measures and warnings to would-be borrowers of housing loans as well as strict scrutiny before making transactions to real estate developers.

Berberabe, a lawyer, said that aside from the government watchdog in the agency, there is also an internal ombudsman and internal control audit that regularly checks all its transaction.

No more Window 1

Berberabe also announced that they had cancelled the scheme known as Window 1, which was the corridor used by Lee using bogus borrowers to siphon off the multibillion-peso fund, which led to the filing of syndicated estafa case against the businessman.

The Window 1 is a new scheme, which was designed to cover non-formal workers, i.e. the overseas Filipino workers, self-employed Pag-Ibig members, to qualify for huge amount of housing loan where in the past only formal workers were entitled to loan. Formal workers refer to an employer and employee relationship.

The Window 1 has a buyback guarantee of five years while the old system only has two years buyback guarantees.

After the discovery in 2011 of the scam, the Pag-Ibig Fund had cancelled the Window 1 scheme as buyback program.

"We implement the new program and we are at the level of the highest history of the Pag-IBIG Fund to introduce strict measures and safeguards in place," Beberabe said.

Berberabe advised Pag-Ibig members who wish to avail of the housing loan to transact first to their office before making decision in securing houses or condo units, to choose developers with good track record and utilized their personnel in getting advice so that they will not fall victim to fraudulent developers. (Camille P. Balagtas/Sunnex with a report from Kristine Venet Q. Andal)

Published in the Sun.Star Pampanga newspaper on April 10, 2014.

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