The United Filipino Seafarers (UFS), the publishing organization of the maritime newspaper Tinig ng Marino (Tinig), filed another charge of qualified theft against former Managing Director Robert Rey Gambe. Prior to this new case, Gambe is already facing 11 counts of qualified theft that were previously filed by UFS in 2012. After two years of hiding, he was eventually arrested on September 26, 2014 in Barangay Lamesa, Calamba City on the basis of a criminal warrant issued by Judge Felicitas O. Laron-Cacanindin of Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 17. He is currently out on bail while awaiting judgment.
In the UFS complaint-affidavit, it is stated that apart from having embezzled payments from no less than six advertisers for Tinig, Gambe had also stolen receivables paid by yet another advertiser, INC Navigation Inc., with the total amount of Php 760,000. As was his other theft cases, he instructed INC Navigation to deposit its payments to an unauthorized and undisclosed account which was solely under his control and management, instead of the legitimate bank account of the UFS where payments for Tinig are being kept. For years, Gambe had been asking advertisers to deposit their payments to this illicit bank account, and the UFS estimates that more than a million pesos have been stolen in this manner. Meanwhile, Gambe told Tinig editors and staff that INC Navigation Inc., like the six other manning agencies who were actually paying clients of Tinig were being given “free write-ups”.
Gambe was able to sustain this deception for several years, Ramirez cites, because he and the UFS Board trusted Gambe so much that he (Gambe) was fully authorized to solicit advertisements and receive payments without being subjected to supervisory scrutiny. In fact, Ramirez was grooming Gambe to be the next president of the UFS, and the future executive editor for TNM.
Aside from naming Gambe in the complaint-affidavit filed on November 9, 2015 at the Office of the City Prosecutor for Manila, UFS President Nelson P. Ramirez also included Maricar Songcayauon and Cherry Ann Oguez-Cabe as co-respondents. Songcayauon served as office secretary under Gambe, while Oguez-Cabe was responsible for marketing and accounting. Engr. Ramirez explains that while the embezzled funds were being diverted to undisclosed bank accounts under Gambe’s name, it was impossible for Songcayauon and Oguez-Cabe not to have been aware that duplicitous transactions were being committed, as they were intimately involved with the operations of Tinig. More pertinently, the two were in charge of issuing Statement of Accounts (SOAs) and Official Receipts (ORs), including those fraudulently issued for multiple anomalous transactions. Ramirez has, on more than one occasion, expressed his extreme disappointed by the betrayal of trust committed by people he has known for a long time.
Gambe has already admitted that he did indeed open an illicit BPI Family Bank account under the corporate name Tinig ng Marino, and deliberately did not disclose its existence. He also owns up to secretly diverting advertisers’ fees to said account but interestingly, he justifies his actions by saying that he only did it so that the newspaper could have “a buffer fund”. According to Ramirez, Gambe’s explanation is absurd because he (Gambe) has never expressed any worries or issues concerning Tinig’s cash flow. In fact, there were even many opportunities for Gambe to earn extra income on top of his editor’s salary. Ramirez muses: “Gambe never had any complaints; in fact, he would even ask me to fire an employee or two during the seven years that he held his position, just so that Gambe could take over that employee’s job and salary. He (Gambe) would explain that he can simply assume such-and-such’s function so he can be paid more. And I indulged him, because I was grooming him to be my replacement.”
It is worth noting that, despite having hundreds of thousands of pesos in this so-called buffer fund, Gambe couldn’t name any legitimately operations-related expense where this money had been used, except for the purchase of a single electric fan, and payment for the repair of an office printer. It should also be mentioned that during the years when Gambe, assisted by Oguez-Cabe, and Songcayauon, was busily building up the so-called ‘buffer fund’, Tinig ng Marino’s legitimate bank accounts were scraping bottom. In fact, Ramirez recalls that there were times when Tinig funds were so low that the payment for office rental was delayed, money for printing expenses and writers’ fees were not released on schedule; yet, during these pressing times when a buffer fund would have come in handy, Gambe never volunteered to use the money which he claimed to have earmarked for this very purpose. In his efforts to revive the existence of the publication, Engr. Ramirez, on the other hand, solicited financial assistance from his closest friends to cover the unpaid expenses.
More suspiciously still, Gambe appeared to have had no plans at all to make the existence of the money known to the rest of the UFS staff. In fact, it was only by chance that UFS Executive Secretary Jesalyn Willow Ramirez stumbled upon a cheque that was payable to the unauthorized bank account. She, with the help of Administrative Staff Rey Sto. Domingo, asked Gambe, Songcayauon and Oguez-Cabe about it, but all three denied knowing about the matter. Gambe and his cohorts’ modus were only discovered after Jesalyn Ramirez and Sto. Domingo began talking to the manning agencies themselves, who revealed that they have been fully paying for the press for what Gambe had declared to be ‘freebies’.
UFS staff shared that even now, three years after the initial discovery of Gambe, Songcayauon and Oguez-Cabe’s criminal actions, they have yet to realize the full extent of the theft to Tinig ng Marino’s funds. Ramirez shares that they continue to dig into the documents and operations records during the seven years that Gambe was managing editor, and they have evidence that could be used for at least two more counts of qualified theft against Gambe and company.