MANILA, Philippines – Agrarian Secretary John Castriciones is being investigated by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) over an alleged P5-million payoff in a land conversion issue under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP).
"Perusal of submitted pieces of evidence shows that all complainants and witnesses attested that Sec. Castriciones received a total of of five million pesos in exchange of a Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) order exempting a piece of lot from CARP," said an NBI progress report dated May 16, 2019.
NBI Director Dante Gierran forwarded the report to the Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission (PACC) on May 17. PACC Commissioner Manny Luna told Rappler on Saturday, July 13, that Castriciones has volunteered to undergo a lifestyle check.
Castriciones confirmed to Rappler on Saturday the lifestyle check and the existence of a pending NBI investigation.
Castrictiones strongly denied the accusation and turned the tables on the complainant, Maricon Doctora-Sayas.
"The complainant Maricon Doctora is a fixer who has been under investigation by the DAR Legal Service (DAR LS) and Anti-Corruption Task Force (DARAC TF) even before February 2019 prior to the execution of her perjurious sworn statement," Castriciones said.
"For the record, I did not receive any bribe money," Castriciones told Rappler.
Castriciones said it was Doctora-Sayas, who transacted and received the P5 million and that cases have been filed against her before the Office of the Ombudsman. Castriciones said he even requested an investigation from the Office of the Executive Secretary.
The issue involves a certain Glenn Espaldon, who, Castriciones said, filed the first complaint against Doctora-Sayas which prompted an internal investigation within DAR.
"The investigation against her was brought about by the complaint of a certain Glenn Espaldon, who executed a notarized affidavit stating under oath: (1) the details of the transaction between him and Doctora-Sayas; (2) how Doctora-Sayas represented to have the power to secure an approved conversion order; and (3) how she received cash from Espaldon in separate instances amounting to P5 million," Castriciones said.
Espaldon also submitted sworn statements and documents to the NBI, according to the progress report.
Castriciones said Doctora-Sayas did not respond to the summons sent to her by the DAR investigating team, and proceeded instead to file a complaint against him before the NBI.
"To begin with, there is no pending conversion application with DAR regarding the landholding being referred to by Doctora-Sayas," Castriciones said, adding that Doctora-Sayas has offered herself to be a state witness.
If proven true, the bribery will fall under Article 210 of the Revised Penal Code and the anti-graft law, according to the NBI.
"I am willing to cooperate with any investigation, and have been doing so for the past few months because I do not fear the truth and I have nothing to hide," said Castriciones.
Land conversion anomalies
The DAR has come under fire in Malacañang after President Rodrigo Duterte lashed out at the slow land conversion process. But Malacañang said Castriciones was still trusted by the president.
In response, Castriciones created a task force that investigated alleged anomalies in land conversion transactions.
"Clearly there are forces working to discredit me before the President and the Filipino people, knowing full well the President’s stand against corruption in government service and how the mere whiff of corruption would be sufficient for the President to remove appointed government officials," Castriciones said.
Castriciones was appointed to DAR after a controversial stint as undersecretary of the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), where he was accused of corruption by employees.
Castriciones was active in Duterte's presidential campaign, serving as executive vice president of the Mayor Rodrigo Roa Duterte (MRRD) group, a nationwide volunteer organization. – Rappler.com