November 28, 2022

(UPDATE) THE National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) has filed graft charges against former Quezon City Second District representative Precious Hipolito-Castelo, five members of her staff, and two officials of the Department of Labor and Employment (DoLE) before the Office of the Ombudsman for the alleged illegal disbursement of P56 million from the Tulong Panghanapbuhay para sa Ating Disadvantaged/Displaced Workers (Tupad) program.

NBI spokesman Giselle Garcia-Dumlao said on Thursday that an administrative case was also filed against Hipolito-Castelo and her co-respondents last November 7.

The charges stemmed from a request made by former Labor secretary Silvestre Bello 3rd to the NBI to investigate irregularities in the implementation of the Tupad program.

Garcia said the NBI interviewed witnesses who claimed that they were recruited by coordinators from the office of then-congresswoman Hipolito-Castelo.

At least 300 individuals said in sworn statements they were assured that they would be made beneficiaries of the Tupad program “as long as they return a significant amount of the salaries they will receive.”

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A Tupad beneficiary is entitled to a P7,518 cash benefit. The witnesses said they were told to return P6,000 to the coordinators once they receive their cash benefits.

Garcia said other assurances given by the supposed coordinators from Hipolito-Castelo’s office to the “ghost beneficiaries” are that they need no longer work, submit daily time records or sign any contracts.

“It appears that their identities will only be used for the Tupad program,” the NBI official said.

Garcia said based on the statements of the witnesses, the coordinators collect the P6,000 and turn over the amount to the office of Hipolito-Castelo.

Tupad is a community-based package of assistance that provides emergency employment for displaced workers, underemployed and seasonal workers. The payment of wages is done through a money remittance service provider.

A DoLE regional director and field officer were named as co-respondents in the case.

They were included in the charges because despite the fact that the beneficiaries did not sign any contracts or daily time records, they still authorized the disbursement of the cash benefits to these individuals, Garcia said.

“The implementor of the program is the regional office of the DoLE. They are the one who authorizes and facilitates the release of funds. The individuals were clearly not qualified but they still authorized the release of the funds,” Garcia said.

The NBI spokesman said the evidence was based solely on the testimonies and no paper trail or documentation were provided.

“In their statements, more than 300 individuals submitted, the content is the same,” Garcia said.

She said originally, there were at least 1,000 individuals who came forward and expressed willingness to stand as witnesses.

“Probably, if someone is willing to give statements or pieces of evidence, they can still go to the NBI,” said Garcia.

She stressed that the affidavit and testimonial evidences of the witnesses are enough for the case to move forward.

On Thursday, Hipolito-Castelo said the NBI investigation has consistently indicated that there is a lack of reliable, impartial evidence suggesting her office was involved in misconduct.

“We have fully cooperated and supported all efforts to investigate allegations of wrongdoing, including the submission of records to establish proper implementation of the Tupad program,” she said.

“The investigation has always shown the absence of credible and non-politically motivated evidence to establish wrongdoing by our office,” she said. “We remain steadfast in supporting all efforts to alleviate poverty in a clean, transparent manner.”