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NBI files plunder, graft raps vs. Singson, others over ‘right of way scam’

The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) on Wednesday filed graft plunder and graft complaints against former Public Works and Highways Secretary Rogelio Singson and officials over the alleged road right-of-way Scam in General Santos City.

The NBI said it filed the complaints against 34 respondents at the Office of the Ombudsman after a six-month investigation ordered by Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II.

The charges, which include grave misconduct and dishonesty for the public officers, were based on an exposé by Roberto Catapang, who revealed details of the right of way scam in General Santos city in a letter to Aguirre last year.

Citing information from Catapang, Aguirre tagged Singson and former Budget secretary Florencio Abad, as well as other officials from various government offices, as having enabled the work of a “criminal syndicate” that claimed compensation from the Department of Public Works and Highways using fake land titles bearing the names of “non-existent persons.”

"Talagang may sindikato dito," Cesar Bacani, regional director of the NBI in the National Capital Region, said.

The modus operandi of the syndicate, Aguirre had said, was to “claim for just compensation of road right of way (RROW) which are intended for rightful owners who were affected by national highway construction at General Santos City."

He tapped the NBI to investigate the alleged scam.

Abad is not included in the complaint filed on Wednesday, but Bacani said the bureau is looking at the possibility of including the former official in the next batch of complaints.

Singson told GMA News Online that he was not in the country and needs to get details of the complaints before he can issue a statement.

He had denied the allegations against him when he appeared in a Senate hearing on the scam last year.

“I did not profit nor gained anything from any of these land claims as accused by Secretary (Vitaliano) Aguirre. There is no P8.7 billion paid in General Santos. I was not a corrupt secretary and definitely not a plunderer,” Singson told the Senate public works committee during a hearing on the alleged P8.7-billion scam.

In a separate hearing at the House of Representatives, DPWH lawyer Jahara Macadato said that their office in Region 12 released only P2.8 billion as road right of way payments for General Santos City, not P8.7 billion.

Probe results

During its investigation, the NBI requested 50 disbursement vouchers of "bogus" claims, as alleged by Catapang, from the auditor of the DPWH in Region 12, but only received nine, according to a copy of the complaint.

Investigators looked into these nine claims with seven claimants who said their properties were affected by the RROW Project along Digos-Makar-Buayan National Road in General Santos City.

They were allegedly paid an aggregate amount of over P255.5 million in five tranches between 2011 and 2015.

The NBI called these claims "fabricated" after it learned of alleged discrepancies in the official documents that the claimants submitted.

The NBI said it found that while the nine Transfer Certificates of Title numbers were verified authentic by the Registry of Deeds in General Santos City, the record bore "different registered owners, land areas and location."

In one case, a 25,000-square meter lot declared to be located in Lagao, General Santos City and registered to a certain Ramon Ballesterso turned out to be only 90 square meters, located in Apopong, and registered to Richmond Land Innovations, Inc.

The NBI also said that based on its investigations, the certified true copies of Tax Declarations (TD) revealed that while the TD numbers on-file were the same as those submitted, they were registered to different names and property descriptions.

Meanwhile, certified true copes of eight out of nine City Appraisal Reports -- the documents used to determine the price of the affected properties -- "are not among those documents that are in the possession of the City Appraisal Committee."

The NBI said it tried to obtain Bureau of Internal Revenue certifications of zonal validation but the authorities concerned could not locate them.

The agency said it turned out that tax receipts "were issued to different persons for the payment of other government fees."

In recommending the filing of plunder charges with a recommendation of forfeiture proceedings, the NBI said the respondents "conspired" with one another and "unjustly enriched themselves to the damage of the Filipino people."

"Through the use of fabricated documents produced by the private individuals, and the falsified certifications and other relevant documents issued by the concerned government officials, facilitated the swift release of public funds in their favor," the complaint said.

"The public officers entrusted by law to faithfully execute the government project even allowed themselves to receive kickbacks, percentage and other form of pecuniary benefits to the damage and prejudice of the Filipino people," it added.

In recommending graft charges, the NBI said "the public officers involved in the implementation of RROW project capitalized on their official functions to commit the crime as recommended." —with Jon Viktor D. Cabuenas/ALG, GMA News