International fraudster Nelson Ti, said to be a close friend of a brother-in-law of former President Benigno Aquino III, was established as among the leaders of the syndicate tagged in the P255.5 million road right of way (RRoW) scam in General Santos City.
In a report approved by the Senate, the Blue Ribbon Committee identified Ti as the financier of the syndicate headed by Wilma Mamburam and Evelyn Paloso.
Ti, however, remains at large despite being the subject of a warrant of arrest issued by the Makati City Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 59 for estafa and facing prosecution in the United States for conspiracy to defraud the US.
At least 15 government personnel and several private individuals were recommended to be filed with plunder cases after the Senate approved the Blue Ribbon Committee report.
Sen. Richard Gordon, chairman of the committee, presented the Blue Ribbon report on Wednesday night and was approved by other senators without any objection.
“This is a signal to all in terms of doing their duties to the country and certainly, I hope this report sends a very strong signal to everybody,” Gordon said in his sponsorship speech.
The same personalities were identified in the executive summary of the House Committee of Good Government and Public Accountability probe as having led the syndicate in manufacturing fake land titles and documents submitted to the Region 12 office of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH). The land titles were in the names of fictitious persons, the House probe found.
Among the House recommendations at the public hearings held last year were the expansion of investigations to include all RRoW claims in other regions and for the immediate conduct of an investigation by the Office of the Ombudsman.
The fugitive Ti, an associate of Eldon Cruz, the husband of Aquino’s sister Ballsy Aquino-Cruz, is also facing in the US three counts of false statements, three counts of mail fraud, six counts of money laundering and obstruction of proceeding before a US agency.
Ti is also sought by the US government and is listed on the Interpol Red Notice.
During the course of the inquiry, Gordon, chairman of the Blue Ribbon Committee, ordered the Philippine National Police and the National Bureau of Investigation to locate and produce Ti to no avail.
The Daily Tribune published a copy of Ti’s photograph following the manhunt order.
“The syndicate was successful in perpetuating its crime because of a massive breakdown in the law,” the committee report stated.
Ti, Mamburam and Paloso were recommended charged with corruption of public officials. The group was responsible for the P255.5-million RRoW scam in General Santos City.
Hold lifestyle check
The committee also recommended a lifestyle check by the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) against the government personnel involved in the scam; institute a single inter-governmental IT-based secure platform for the verification of RRoW claims among the concerned government agencies; review and overhaul, if necessary, of the way the Torrens System is maintained and protected, and prohibit the use of attorneys-in-fact in the processing and receiving of claims.
Others recommended charged were Ser John Pastrana, head of the Land Registration Authority’s (LRA) Information and Communications Technology Division, and Leonard Dinopol, the head of the Assessor’s office in General Santos City, and 13 other government officials.
Mamburam, Ti and Paloso were also recommended charged with violations of the Anti-graft and Corruption Act; Revised Penal Code Article 72, falsification by private individual and use of falsified documents, and Revised Penal Code Article 212, corruption of public officials.
“Considering the total amount of RRoW claims paid by the government is P255.5 million and that the same would not have been disbursed without connivance of the above-named persons, this committee urges appropriate prosecutorial body to look into the possibility of filing charge of plunder against them,” Gordon said.
Tamayo et al. tagged
The other government personnel tagged in the RRoW scam were officials of the DPWH and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and General Santos City Assessor’s Office.
In the course of its investigation, the House committee identified at least two officials of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) who gave the go signal in paying the syndicate despite questionable documents and being red-flagged by the DPWH headquarters and the Commission on Audit (CoA).
The two are former DPWH-Region 12 Directors Reynaldo Tamayo and Subair Diron.
“DPWH RDs Diron and Tamayo together approved 127 RRoW claims represented by members of the syndicate amounting to at least P3,397,234,938,” the committee said.
In 2013, the Commission on Audit (CoA) transmitted two management letters to DPWH Regional Office 12 addressed to Tamayo.
The letters pointed out that:
* Infrastructure Right of Way (IRoW) claims amounting to P104,057,076.37 involving 201 Disbursement Vouchers were paid without complete documentation, contrary to Section 4.6 to 4.7 of Presidential Decree 1445 and various applicable DPWH Rules and Regulations on IROW claims; and
* Claims for IRoW amounting to P39,530,251.02 affected by the Construction of East Diversion Road, Cotabato City, Sultan Kudarat and Datu Odin Sinsuat, Maguindanao were paid without an approved Parcellary Survey which is not in accordance with DPWH rules.
The CoA found that “due to the incomplete submission of documents, the validity, completeness and accuracy of the IRoW claims cannot be determined/evaluated and communicated” to the DPWH for appropriate action.
The CoA then requested Tamayo to immediately submit the lacking documents.
The report recommended that they be charged with violations of Republic Act 3019 or the Anti-graft and Corrupt Practices Act; RA 6713 or the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees; Revised Penal Code Article 210 on Direct Bribery, and Revised Penal Code Article 210 on Indirect Bribery.
“These people were able to cheat the government, if you look at it. These are supposed to be certified true copies, but in reality these are lands that were already owned by the government,” Gordon said.
“That’s what they did. They made it appear that some other people owned them and created fake titles, with fake names, so they were layering all of these,” he pointed out.
The Blue Ribbon Committee inquiry was conducted December 2017 after Sen. Manny Pacquiao filed Senate Resolution 561 asking the Senate to probe the alleged syndicate behind the RRoW payment scam in General Santos City.
According to Pacquiao, the modus operandi of the syndicate was to claim for just compensations of RRoW which are intended for rightful owners who were affected by the national highway construction in General Santos City.
In a series of reports, the Daily Tribune detailed how the syndicate operated and published the falsified documents, including transfer certificates of titles used in the fraudulent claims of RRoW.
The Daily Tribune also reported the names of fake claimants used by the Ti’s syndicate.
Under the Right-of-Way Act, the government is mandated to provide just compensation for landowners whose properties were or will be used or affected by national infrastructure projects such as the building of roads.