House staff linked to fake SARO transferred to another dep't
MANILA, Philippines – As a "precautionary measure," Speaker Feliciano "Sonny" Belmonte Jr said on Tuesday, December 3, he has ordered the transfer to another department of a House employee linked to the discovered fake special allotment release order (SARO).
House staff Jose Badong has been moved from the House appropriations committee, which crafts the government budget, to the Office of the Secretary General. But Belmonte stressed he was not "prejudging" the House employee.
"I'm just doing a precautionary thing," he told reporters. He only has power over Badong because "he's the only one who's a permanent staff of Congress. The rest are temporary staff of congressmen, their personal staff."
On November 25, a Philippine Daily Inquirer report revealed an ongoing investigation into a case involving the fake SARO released to mayors in Region II (Cagayan Valley) for P879 million worth of farm-to-market roads.
The Department of Agriculture was alerted of the bogus SARO after the staff of Cagayan Representative Baby Aline Vargas-Alfonso presented the document to a DA regional unit. (READ: De Lima on fake SARO: DBM has to be involved)
In a statement released Monday, December 2, Belmonte said that the source of the photocopy of the fake SARO was Emmanuel Raza, the staff of another congresswoman, Zamboanga City Representative Lilia Nuño.
According to Belmonte, Raza asked Badong to give the SARO to Bong Pelonio, Alfonso's chief of staff, since Badong and Pelonio knew each other.
All 3 staff members have worked for other congressmen in the past. Belmonte said Nuño told him during their Tuesday meeting that Raza was staff of her predecessor, Erico Fabian. It is common practice for House members to accommodate the staff of their predecessors.
Nuño: I'm innocent
Nuño, a neophyte solon, told reporters on Tuesday that she was innocent.
"I'm just barely 5 months and I'm not involved in any dubious transaction. I don't even know about the SARO. I did not follow up any project that has been left during the time of Cong. Erico Fabian because I'm concentrating on the projects for 2014," she said in an ambush interview.
The Supreme Court earlier struck down lawmakers' Priority Development Assistance Fund as unconstitutional, preventing new lawmakers from getting the chance to utilize the P70 million available to congress members in the past.
Abakada Representative Jonathan dela Cruz has filed a resolution seeking for a congressional probe into the fake SARO case.
But Belmonte reiterated his stand that the National Bureau of Investigation is in a better position to handle the probe. "I still believe that the NBI has a wider reach. We can investigate our people here but it's hard to go out of our office to do other things."
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima earlier said the NBI is also looking into reports that fake SAROs were also issued in other regions, including Region IV-A (Calabarzon), Region VI (Western Visayas), and Region XII (Soccsksargen). Probers have yet to come up with an estimate of how much are involved in these regions. – Rappler.com