The picture of Delfin Lee

In a column I wrote in July this year (Inquirer, 07/17/10), I tried to interpret an intriguing photo that appeared in the Inquirer showing Globe Asiatique’s Delfin Lee with top officials of Pag-ibig (Home Development Mutual Fund).  The photo carried the following caption: “Globe Asiatique and Pag-ibig Committed to Working Together.” If this was a news item, I said, what was it doing in the foreign section? If it was a paid advertisement, why was it not labeled as such? The main point of that article was to argue why it is important to mark the boundaries separating the news from advertisement and entertainment.

But, what initially drew me to the picture in question had little to do with the point I was making.  There was just something curious and disturbing about the photo itself:  A smiling man dressed casually (Delfin Lee) had his right hand on the shoulder of a formally-dressed person (Jaime Fabiana) in what appeared to be a formal pose.  This man must be a celebrity, I thought to myself.

Well, Lee might have felt like one because he used to host a television program on ANC in which he mainly promotes the projects of his real estate company.  Still, it seemed improper for anyone, especially one who has dealings with Pag-ibig, to treat the chief executive officer of the agency as if they were buddies.  To be fair, Mr. Fabiana himself, like the other Pagibig official in the photo, deputy CEO Emma Linda Faria, looked reluctant and uncomfortable in that picture.

My instinct was instantly confirmed after I googled Delfin Lee. One link led me to the website of “Pag-ibig Fund South Min,” which featured more or less the same photograph minus the overreaching hand of Lee resting on Fabiana’s shoulder.  More interesting was the caption: “Apology to Pag-ibig. Jaime A. Fabiana (left), Chief Executive Officer of Home Development Mutual Fund (Pag-ibig Fund), receives Delfin Lee (center), President of Globe Asiatique Realty Holdings Corporation at his office. Lee personally apologized to Fabiana over his reported statements that HDMF officials ‘have become lazy and have lost the vision to serve’.”

Three months quickly passed since that picture saw print in the Inquirer. “But one doesn’t have to be a journalist,” I wrote in my column, “to sense that there’s a bigger story buried here.  What prompted the apology?  What was the issue? What is the nature of Lee’s dealings with the Pag-ibig Fund?”

As it turned out, one sharp-nosed journalist, the Inquirer’s own Tonette

Orejas, correspondent for Central Luzon, had been quietly researching Delfin Lee’s projects in Pampanga long before that contested photograph appeared. Her carefully documented research resulted in a two-part report that the Inquirer published a month later.  That report promptly triggered a Senate investigation of the activities of Globe Asiatique.  Today, Globe Asiatique owner Delfin Lee and other officials of his company are facing charges of syndicated estafa. The complaint filed at the Department of Justice is signed by Pag-ibig officer-in-charge Emma Linda Faria, the lady in that picture.

Lee is accused of using fictitious buyers of housing units supplied by his company to take out loans from Pag-ibig. The amount involved is P6.65 billion, representing payment for 8,790 units in the Xevera projects of Globe Asiatique.  Of these, only 1,209 are actually occupied by buyers/borrowers on Pag-ibig’s records.  A total of 1,576 housing units that were supposed to have been bought by Pag-ibig members/borrowers are actually being occupied by people who say they are tenants or “in-house buyers” of Globe Asiatique.

The charges allege that Delfin Lee, in effect, fraudulently accessed the funds belonging to Pag-ibig members to finance his own real estate projects. This scam is so reminiscent of the misuse of public funds that doomed the well-intentioned Unified Home Lending Program during the Ramos administration that it is difficult to believe that people at Pag-ibig and the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC) could not have smelled this rip-off earlier.

Every legitimate Pag-ibig member knows how tortuous and protracted the process of securing a housing loan can be.  Yet, individuals sponsored by Globe Asiatique, who became instant Pag-ibig members upon paying P5000, the equivalent of two years’ contributions, could get their loan applications processed and approved in less than a week.  For a given period, month after month, a big bulk of the agency’s available housing credit was taken out by the same company.  If no one in Pag-ibig or HUDCC felt any alarm over this, the only logical conclusion one can draw is that the officials of these government agencies were incompetent, in collusion with the private developer, or were intimidated by a powerful official.

As a long-time member of the Pag-ibig Fund, I feel violated. This matter cannot end with the filing of charges against Globe Asiatique and one low-ranking employee at Pag-ibig.  Delfin Lee could not have gotten this far without the backing of someone who uses political muscle to soften the stiffest resistance from professionals in government.  The man in that photograph who carried himself as if he owned Pag-ibig definitely had a protector who was clever enough not to be in that picture.