MANILA -- Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II dared the businesswoman tagged in the PHP8.7 billion road right of way (RROW) scam in General Santos City to prove her claims against whistleblower Robert Catapang.

Aguirre made the statement in response to Mercedita Dumlao's request for him to help clear her name from Catapang’s “unfair” and “baseless” accusations of a “fictitious” scam in which she was allegedly involved.

Dumlao and her lawyer appeared at the Department of Justice (DOJ) on Friday to file a letter of appeal asking the Secretary to reconsider his decision to turn Catapang as state witness.

“That's their allegations. They should prove it. As long as the WPP (Witness Protection Program) witness does not appear to be the most guilty, then we are right in putting him in the WPP Protection,” Aguirre explained when asked for a comment.

In a two-page letter, Dumlao dismissed Catapang’s allegations that she was one of those who facilitated the release of payment for the private properties used for road projects funded by the Department of Public Works and Highways in General Santos using fictitious land titles.

“I vehemently deny having any involvement in the said scam and condemn in the strongest possible terms the unfair and baseless accusation made by Mr. Catapang,” Dumlao said in a two-page letter delivered by his legal counsel Danny Villanueva to the Office of the Justice Secretary.

“Contrary to Mr. Catapang’s claim, I am one of the numerous persons victimized by his felonious modus and scheme pertaining to his alleged RROW claims before the Region 12 Office of the DPWH (Department of Public Works and Highways),” read the letter.

She requested that the DOJ Secretary “meticulously evaluate the story of Mr. Catapang in the light (of) his involvement in drug dealing in General Santos City as can be seen in the confidential report of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), as well as his involvement in numerous money-making scams as can be seen from the numerous complaints for swindling filed against him.”

Catapang, in a press conference held at the DOJ on Nov. 27, implicated Dumlao, among others, in an alleged syndicate involved in the alleged multi-billion peso scam.

Former Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) chief Rogelio Singson and former budget secretary Florencio Abad were also tagged in the alleged scam.

After watching the DOJ press briefing, Dumlao said it was only then that she found out the transfer certificate titles (TCT) allegedly sent to her by Catapang were “fake”.

“I could no longer recover my money or investment from Mr. Catapang as the RROW claims he said were pending before the DPWH are fictitious,” she said.

Dumlao said that she has already filed cases for estafa, libel and falsification of public documents before the Quezon City Prosecutor's Office against Catapang.

The cases were filed, Dumlao said, to recover what she said she has invested in Catapang’s “purported RROW claims” and the “fake TCTs” he allegedly sent her.

At the same time, Dumlao asked Aguirre that she be removed in from the Bureau of Immigration’s Immigration Lookout Bulletin (BI-ILBO).

Aguirre had earlier ordered placed in the ILBO Dumlao and other persons allegedly involved in the scam.

Apart from this, the Secretary already instructed the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to investigate the scam.

Those who would be found liable could be prosecuted for committing crimes under Republic Act No. 3019 or the “Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act”.

Catapang ealier said Eldon Cruz, brother-in-law of former president Benigno S. Aquino III, had endorsed the release of payments for the supposed bogus RROW claims.

Catapang, who hails from Gen. Santos City, said he joined the syndicate back in 2009 but left the group.

Since then, he said, the syndicate collected PHP8.7 billion from about 300 bogus RROW claims in Gen. Santos City.

Catapang said the properties were covered by specious land titles and other documents which he and other members of their group had manufactured in connivance with corrupt government employees.

He, however, admitted that he never met Cruz nor saw him speak with public officials to help facilitate multimillion-peso transactions at the DPWH and the Department of Budget and Management.

Aguirre said the allegations in the sworn statement of Catapang, including the amount taken from government coffers, are serious allegations that should be looked into in line with President Rodrigo Duterte’s directive to wage war on corruption, then and now. (PNA)