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Ex-GSIS officers found guilty of graft over anomalous housing loans

The Sandiganbayan has found former officials of the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) guilty of two counts of graft over the anomalous grant of hundreds of millions of pesos worth of housing loans to unqualified persons.

In a 54-page decision dated March 3, the anti-graft court ruled that back in 2001, then GSIS Tarlac City office’s Branch Manager Amando Inocentes, Division Chief III Celestino Cabalitasan, Property Appraiser III Ma. Victoria Leonardo and Senior General Insurance Specialist Jerry Balagtas conspired with private citizen Jose De Guzman by processing and approving 491 housing loans worth P241 million to unqualified beneficiaries under De Guzman’s GSIS Bahay Ko Program.

The court also said that then GSIS officials Inocentes, Cabalitasan, Leonardo, and Balagtas gave undue benefits to de Guzman by processing, approving, and granting loans of 53 borrowers under the GSIS Bahay Ko Program in Teresa Homes amounting to P52.1 million even if such lots were intended for commercial purposes only, resulting an over appraisal of P33.2 million.

“From the evidence adduced by the prosecution, the court finds a clear indication that there is a unity of action and purpose among the accused to perpetrate the acts complained of,” the Sandiganbayan said.

The Sandiganbayan said that Cabalitasan and Balagtas were mandated to initially screen loan applicants and recommend for approval or rejection, something that both of them failed to do since they committed the following acts:

  • granting Bahay ko Program loans to unqualified borrowers;
  • the unauthorized conduct of credit analysis and investigation by the Tarlac Field Office;
  • granting two loans to one member;
  • granting loans involving properties from JQG Home Development Corporation which is the developer of Teresa Subdivision; and
  • tampering of Transfer Certificates of Titles.

“Going over the evidence presented by the prosecution, indeed, the findings were substantiated, much more, that the defense never presented any evidence to belie them,"  The prosecution witnesses in the person of Nagano and Sandoval, related to the court their stories about the Bahay Ko Program,” the Sandiganbayan said.

Anita Nagano is a 68-year-old retired teacher residing in Adua Centro, Cabanatuan City while Gloria Sandoval is a 66-year-old retired public school teacher from Dimalupihan, Bataan.

“From the unrebutted testimonies of these two witnesses alone, what can be interpreted is, despite the non-filing of an application for housing loan by Nagano and the obvious disqualification of witness Sandoval to avail the loan, witnesses Nagano and Sandoval have approved loan applications with the GSIS Tarlac Field Office. Who then made this possible, if not accused Cabalitasan as reviewing and approving official and Balagtas as credit investigator,” the Sandiganbayan said.

The anti-graft court also cited the Report on Operations Audit of Housing Loan dated May 26, 2004, which showed the following findings:

  • non-verification of the borrower’s eligibility and paying capacity which resulted in the granting of loans to unqualified borrowers.
  • release of Bahay Ko Program loans to two mortgagors without submitting payslips/payroll.
  • approval of loans with arrears in salary/emergency loan.
  • granting of a bigger amount of loan to two mortgagors due to failure to properly include other loan amortizations in determining the net take-home pay.
  • release of loan proceeds without verifying the authenticity of the annotation of the mortgage on the owner’s duplicate Transfer Certificate of Title
  • non-payment of processing fee before the release of the loan.
  • releasing of loan checks by the Special Business without prior certification from the Chief of the Support Services as to the availability of funds in violation of the General Accounting and Auditing Manuals of Public Funds
  • failure of the Tarlac Field Office to send Demand Letters to mortgagors with arrears that resulted in the accumulation of unpaid installments in the total amount of P20 million as of April 30, 2004, and
  • double granting of loans to 18 members.

“The court cannot ignore the importance of payslips to establish the paying capacity of a loan applicant to ward off ineligible applicants to prevent wastage of public funds. Payslips are supporting documents that are required to be carefully scrutinized to determine the loan eligibility of an applicant,” the Sandiganbayan said.

In addition, the anti-graft court called out GSIS official Balagtas for having “exerted extra effort to make a good evil plan.”

The Sandiganbayan said the prosecution was able to convincingly show that accused Balagtas, some employees of JQG Homes Development, Inc., and some teachers met on several occasions somewhere in Tarlac and collated blank documents which were submitted to GSIS.

Such acts, the anti-graft court said, are contrary to accused Balagtas’ duties as a credit investigator, foremost of which is to interview loan applicants to determine who are qualified or not.

“The court cannot see any justifiable reason why a government employee would meet teachers from outside the territorial jurisdiction of their office and lure them to apply for a loan. And why is he in the company of employees of JQG Homes Development, Inc., the same corporation which was doing business with the government agency that he is connected with,” the anti-graft court said?

“In sum, the joint efforts of accused Cabalitasan and Balagtas, when taken collectively, would lead to the conclusion that indeed they conspired with each other in committing the charges filed against them,” the anti-graft court added.

The anti-graft court also noted that the defenses of Cabalitasan, Balagtas, and Leonardo of having acted in good faith do not hold water, given that the defense panel did not contest the findings on the Report on Operations Audit of Housing Loan dated May 26, 2004.

“Although there has been confusion on the actual total amount that was released in favor of accused de Guzman’s company, the court opines that the determination of the actual amount is of no moment. It is enough that the government has parted with a portion of its money specifically reserved to members of the GSIS payable upon the members' retirement,” the Sandiganbayan said.

“To emphasize, jurisprudence dictates that loss or damage need not be proven with actual certainty. It is enough that there appears that the government was damnified as the result of the delictual acts committed by the accused,” the Sandiganbayan added.

Aside from the jail term, the former GSIS officials were perpetually barred from public office. —NB, GMA Integrated News