At least three of the suspects in a Legazpi City-based group that allegedly misrepresented themselves as site acquisition agents of Dito Telecommunity Corp. visited Catanduanes on a business trip in late October 2020.
Last week, it was reported in the national and Bicol mainland media that an entrapment operation conducted by the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group-Albay led to the arrest of four suspects allegedly involved in a modus operandi victimizing owners of lots supposedly to be rented for the construction of telecommunications towers.
The reports identified those apprehended as Maricris Basallote Santillan, 44, and, Irwin Galicia Santillan, 51, both residents of Pigcale, Legazpi City; Jenette Asaytuno Dineros, 45, of Peñaranda PNR site; and, Dardanilo Olais Jr., of Malipampang, San Ildefonso, Bulacan.
The other two suspects – Cherry Lad Rose Batalla of 8D Phodaca St., Santo Niño, Quezon City, and a certain Gelyn Manata, were no longer at the house in barangay Bogtong as they reportedly left in December last year.
The complainant, Fe Armeña Salcedo of Malilipot town, claimed that she lost P100,000 of her money to the group, who represented themselves as agents of DITO Telecom. The amount was supposed to be payment of processing fees for the documents needed for the lease contracts, including photocopying fee of P20 per page for the hundreds of land titles handed over by the owners.
A deeper investigation showed that the group allegedly victimized many people, including politicians in Albay, Catanduanes, Sorsogon and Camarines Sur, the reports claimed.
This prompted the police to conduct an entrapment operation together with DITO Telecom representative Lt. Col. Jun de Vela (ret.), leading to the arrest of the four suspects.
It was also alleged that Salcedo was one of the agents of DRLL Electronics Network Solution, Inc. who asked for scanned copies of titles from owners of lots where the supposed towers in Calabarzon, Bicol, Baguio and NCR are to be built.
She later learned from DITO Telecoms main office that the group were not authorized representatives of the company.
Instead, it turned out that Maricris Santillan is the founder, corporate treasurer and administrative officer of Luzviminda Network Solutions, Inc. (LNSI) based in Bogtong, Legazpi City while Irwin Santillan is the vice president.
Based on its facebook page, the company’s mission is “to connect networks for fruitful and productive businesses” and offered franchise businesses and construction contracts to any taker for projects as far away as Bukidnon and Pampanga and as varied as warehouses, school buildings and roads.
The page also shared video posts of “Doc Dardz Olais”,who is named as CEO and president, offering a quarry site for sale.
On the other hand, Batalla’s Fb page described the Daguioman, Abra native as a freelance agent and member of Board of Trustees of the Kapisanan ng mga Katutubong Mamamayan ng Maharlika, Inc. (KKMMI) as well as regional director of the same group in the Cordillera Administrative Region.
Olais, who also posted a Youtube video of a DITO tower construction project, is also a member of the Royal Maharlika Tribe 1 Nation.
According to various accounts told to the Tribune by reliable sources and based on facebook posts of LNSI and Santillan, the group of about eight individuals arrived at the port of San Andres in the morning of Oct. 23, 2020 and then had lunch with TGP partylist Congressman Jose J. Teves Jr. at his Calatagan, Virac residence.
The following day, they had breakfast at the house of an engineer in Constantino before meeting with Raymond Taopa, owner of Altapil Construction and the man behind the Catanduanes Doctors Hospital, Inc.
The group traveled to Viga town on the same day but there were no details of what transpired at the municipality.
On Oct. 25, they went to Pandan, using a Toyota SUV with plate number EAA-4894, and checked in at Emerick Inn. They also met with Mayor Honesto Tabligan II and visited his private resort at Hiyop just as typhoon Quinta passed just off Virac.
On Oct. 27, Maricris Santillan posted pictures of the dinner tendered for the group by Vice Governor Shirley Abundo.
The next day, the group had a meeting with engineers and representatives of local contractors.
Apparently, they also visited Puraran beach in Baras before going home apparently just in time before all ferry trips were suspended due to the approaching typhoon Rolly.
Various sources, including some local politicians who were approached by the Santillan group, said that a member of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan spent for the accommodation, fuel and driver of two other men who were with the group. One of the men was reportedly a native of Pandan now residing in Albay who was asked to accompany the group while the other was identified as a certain Jun Musay.
The Santillan group was accommodated by a provincial politician who operates a resort hotel in Virac while the mayors whom they visited were asked to shoulder their hotel accomodations.
The group allegedly asked advance commission of P100,000 for the tower projects along with agreement to a 20% share in the contract cost of each telecoms tower to be constructed by DITO Telecom.
As for Salcedo, she was with an unidentified woman when she went to the province sometime in August 2020 and discussed the proposed tower construction projects with Governor Joseph C. Cua at his office.
It is claimed that before they left, the two women asked the capitol photographer to delete their pictures but did not explain why.
At the time, there were rumors that DITO Telecom would construct hundreds of towers in Catanduanes or at least one per barangay.
The installation of the towers were reportedly offered for P10 million each, with 20 percent of P2 million reportedly going to the group who would take charge of securing the contracts from DITO Telecom.
None of those who were offered the contracts apparently took the bait while one took the chance of sending someone to DITO Telecom headquarters to check the legitimacy of the group.
As early as September 2020, DITO Telecom had warned landowners against groups or individuals claiming to be representatives of the company for site acquisitions.
In an advisory, DITO said the locations for the construction of its towers, base stations, and other similar structures for its roll-out and launch have already been predetermined based on the plan it submitted to the government before July 2019.
DITO said it has appointed four authorized representatives or vendors to assist in site acquisition namely, Huawei for North Luzon and NCR, ZTE for South Luzon and the Visayas, Nokia-Huaxin for Mindanao, and Udenna Infrastructure Corp.
“These vendors and their agents have been provided authorization letters and identification. DITO has disclosed the identities of these vendors and their agents to the respective local government units,” it said.
DITO stated that none of its representatives and agents promise lump sum rental payment to landowners, as the company only provides a maximum three months advance on monthly rentals to landowners based on the memorandum.
The company and any of its representatives and agents also never request or demand advance payment or processing fees from landowners, it said, and that it never requests or asks for commissions from landowners.
A news report published last year said that DITO will establish only nine (9) cellsites and telecommunications towers in Catanduanes.
The rest of the “hundreds of towers” scheduled for the island, it turns out, will be the so-called Shared Passive Telecommunications Tower Infrastructures (PTTIs) or common towers.
According to the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT), the country needs at least 50,000 new towers, many of which will be built by Independent Tower companies.
For Catanduanes, the common towers to be built at least three kilometers apart will be installed by LCS Holdings owned by Narvacan, Ilocos Sur Mayor Luis “Chavit” Singson.
DITO Telecommunity has signed a memorandum of agreement with the Singson company for the lease of the common towers it will put up in key areas of the country.
According to a highly reliable source who will take part in the installation, LCS will put up an initial 44 towers ranging in height from 32 to 60 meters.
Alarmed by the scams on social media, the LCS Group of Companies also put up a notice warning the public that unscrupulous individuals have been misrepresenting themselves as “agents” or “brokers” of both DITO Telecommunity and the LCS with the intention to collect money from unwary contractors and landowners for supposed Telecommmunication Towers.
“For landowners, culprits will request for these fees by dangling a supposed large sum of cash for a non-existent 5 year or so advance rental payment. LCS, DITO and its partners DO NOT make any advance rental payments in bulk,” it said.
“For contractors, the culprits will request for ‘referral fees’, ‘broker fees’, commissions or other payments to ‘assure’ awarding of tower construction contracts,” LCS vice chairman Arch. Richelle Singson-Michael said, adding that all tower companies have stringent accreditation processes for contractors which rank applicants based on years of experience, financial capacity, and completed projects.
So far, no one in Catanduanes has complained to the authorities of having given money to individuals or groups misrepresenting themselves as agents of DITO or LCS.