De Castro denies special treatment for Delfin Lee’s firm

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Tuesday, April 8, 2014

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 Home Development Mutual Fund (HDMF or Pag-Ibig fund) in 2009.

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


"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 ditto na buyback 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.

Pag-Ibig president Darlene Berberabe who also appeared during the hearing 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.

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.

Senator JV Ejercito, committee chairman, said his panel would like to know how a company like the GA acquired a loan from Pag-Ibig using ghost housing loan applicants, and what legislation should be crafted "to protect the people from this manipulative and anomalous housing loan scheme."

The Senate committee on urban planning, housing and resettlement has issued a subpoena to Lee to attend its next hearing into the housing loan scam.

Aside from Lee, former Pag-Ibig CEO Jaime Fabiana will also be invited to explain why from the original of P375 million loaned to Globe Asiatique, the loan jumped to P5 billion.

The filing of syndicated estafa charges against Lee and four other GA officials was pursued by Vice President Jejomar Binay three years ago, which caused the issuance of arrest warrant against Lee following the discovery on the alleged ghost borrowers and fake documents in securing loans from Pag-Ibig Fund by those who supposedly bought homes in the property developer's Xevera housing project in Mabalacat, Pampanga.

Lee was arrested and now detained at the Pampanga Provincial Jail.

Lee's lawyer Willie Rivera, in an interview, said his client had been framed and singled out by state housing authorities for being on the wrong side of the political fence.

Earlier, Rivera also claimed that Lee was being linked to Interior and Local Government Secretary Manuel Roxas II, a bitter rival of Binay, who is current chair of the HUDCC, which controls the Pag-Ibig Fund.

"Korina (Sanchez, Roxas' wife) is a close friend of Lee's daughter, Divine, and that is a fact," said Rivera.

Divine Lee was one of the bridesmaids in the October 2009 wedding of Sanchez, a news anchor, to Roxas, then a presidential candidate. Roxas gave way to then Senator Benigno Aquino III and ran for vice president instead but lost to Binay.

Rivera said his client is more than willing to face the committee investigation in order to clarify numerous issues and in order to reveal in public the real and truthful circumstances surrounding the cases and continuing allegations against Lee's integrity and business conduct.

In a statement, Lee said he would use the hearing not as a venue for his defense but "to shed light on the truth" and "edify" the lawmakers on loopholes in the system.

"Lee will never invoke his constitutional right against self-incrimination in the Senate hearing because he has nothing to hide, provided the questions are relevant and material to the issues at hand," said Rivera.

Rivera also said that while Lee availed of P6.6 billion in financing from Pag-Ibig in 2009, there were 204 other real estate developers accredited by HMDF--like Ayala Land, Vista Land and the Moldex Group--that availed themselves of bigger loans under the same express funding window developed by then Pag-Ibig president and now Marikina Representative Romero Quimbo.

Rivera said Quimbo imposed more stringent requirements on Globe
Asiatique when it availed of the P6.6 billion for the Pampanga projects.

Meanwhile, the committee headed by Senator Ejercito will summon Philippine National Police Director Chief Director General Alan Purisima and Senior Superintendent Conrad Capa to shed light on the controversial arrest of Lee.

Ejercito said they will also question Purisima about his decision to suddenly remove Capa from tracker team that arrested the businessman and his subsequent reassignment to Cebu.

Report said Purisima allegedly issued a letter ordering the removal of Lee's name from the most wanted list while it was the PNP-Criminal Investigation and Detection Group that issued warrant arrest against the businessman.

Lee's name was reportedly removed from the warrant of arrest database of the PNP.

Shortly before the Senate went on Holy week recess, Senator Nancy Binay filed Resolution 567 to effect an inquiry into the issue.

Binay insisted that investigation should be conducted even if Secretary Roxas already clarified that the arrest warrant against Lee was valid and that the CIDG certification was an honest mistake. (Camille P. Balagtas/Sunnex)

Local news

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