Logic of impunity
The Commission on Audit has another horror story to tell about that unlucky place called Maguindanao. COA Chair Grace Pulido Tan told the appropriations committee of the House of Representatives last week that some P1.6 billion in government funds appeared to have vanished, between January 2008 and September 2009, with hardly a trace. During that period, P873.4 million was released to fund 99 projects, but government auditors were able to validate only P31.5 million worth of projects, leaving P842 million unaccounted for. At the same time, the provincial government recorded 1,441 transactions with 31 suppliers, worth a total of P810 million. One supplier denied having entered into any transaction with the government. The 30 others, who were paid out of cash advances, were found to be either operating without business permits or to have given addresses that could not be located by the auditors. Tan described these projects and transactions as “fictitious.” Andal Ampatuan Sr. was the provincial governor at the time.
Like father, like son. In the ARMM, where Zaldy Ampatuan served as governor, the COA said, funds received by the Office of the Governor were not properly used. There were several transactions worth a little over P1 billion covered by supporting documents, but these were found to be fictitious.
How did the two governors make billions vanish just like that? One way was by listing down projects and reporting them as completed to national officials willing to look the other way. In 2008 and 2009, the ARMM’s public works office claimed to have completed 685 major projects worth a total of P2.82 billion. Most of the projects, such as those in Maguindanao, could not be found by the auditors.
For most supply contracts, payments were in cash. (It was not unlike how LTA paid for the lease—or purchase and servicing—of helicopters allegedly owned by Mike Arroyo and later sold to the Philippine National Police as brand new). ARMM cashier Bai Noraya Pasandain got a total of P130 million in cash advances to pay for obligations worth between P499,000 and P10.9 million. The supporting documents submitted to the COA were insufficient. In Maguindanao, provincial treasurer Osmeña Bandila and cashier Tonina Balono secured cash advances totaling P1.86 billion. They were able to liquidate only P1.79 billion.
A gasoline station in Shariff Aguak owned by Andal Jr. received payments for gas deliveries of up to 556,730 liters a day to ARMM offices. The auditors found that the station could not gas in such volumes.
Many other unethical and dishonest practices are set out in some detail in the four-volume COA report. But what sticks out most prominently was how the Ampatuans and their cohorts in the ARMM, and especially in their home province, operated outside any government accounting rules concerning the use of public funds. But then given how they helped then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to secure the election results she wanted, they must have helped themselves to government resources with nothing less than a sense of entitlement.
It is hardly surprising then that they were able to build such a vast wealth that allowed them to construct two dozen mansions and maintain a well-armed private army that few dared to cross. Neither is it surprising that when they felt that their hold on power over their turf was being challenged, the Ampatuans struck down without compunction their political enemies and anyone who came between them.
Call it the logic of impunity. In their cold-blooded calculations, the Ampatuans probably figured that if they could squander or steal billions in public funds, they just as easily could steal lives. If they could get away with plunder, why couldn’t they get away with murder?
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