‘Mindset of abuse’ | Inquirer Opinion
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‘Mindset of abuse’

FLIP THROUGH the four-volume audit of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao and Maguindanao. They are case-studies of “utak wangwang,” a phrase President Aquino minted in his recent State of the Nation Address.

In his first SONA, P-Noy lashed at the powerful who blasted sirens to shove the weak aside. This time, he deployed wangwang as symbol for a mindset of privilege that gouges a people.

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The Commission on Audit documents that mindset of abuse in  515-pages of  facts, data and tables on ARMM operations. In 2008 and 2009, the ARMM’s public works office fiddled with P2.82 billion. It claimed to have completed 685 major projects, from Lanao del Sur to Basilan. Zaldy Ampatuan served as regional governor then. Surprise! Maguindanao gobbled up P794.2 million.

Led by Susan Gracia, 18 auditors documented how  spurious contractors pocketed P1.12 billion. In Maguindanao, 27 ghost  projects chewed up P422.7 million. No public bids were held  for P1.5 billion worth of projects. “Disbursements for P9.9 million were unrecorded,” the COA report said.

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Cash payments have a cap of  P15,000. The ARMM shredded that rule. Cashier Bai Noraya Pasandain, for example, secured P129.9 million in cash advances. She paid cash for obligations ranging from P499,000 to P10.9 million. Documentation was patchy in many claims. Thus, the  illegal became the standard.

Of P2.4 billion worth of checks issued, P1.86 billion was disbursed as cash advances by Provincial Treasurer Osmena Bandila and cashier Tonina Balono. They liquidated only P1.79 billion. Bandila’s cash holdings crested at P296.9 million.

“Cash advances are a common and normal practice,” Bandila told the COA. Claimants want payments in cash, due to conflicts, he said. Where the unthinkable became the standard, the 47 instances when Bandila’s cash holdings breached fidelity bond levels no longer mattered.

“On July 31, 2009, I was ordered  to cash advance P31,220,389.14 by my superior,” Balono explained. “This extraordinarily large amount, I was informed, will be used to  pay unpaid salaries for the now defunct province of  Shariff Kabunsuan.” Thus, the illicit became routine.

Al-Razel Abudallah, Alfaizar Abdurjai and Amirili Enok encashed 41 percent of ARMM checks, payable to 89 suppliers and local government units. “Sixty-nine checks, payable  to 14 suppliers, were deposited in  two common bank accounts.”

Of  6,982 checks issued by the public works agency, only 1,241 checks were submitted to the auditors. About 41 percent were encashed by Abudallah, Abdurjai and Enok  for interlocking construction firms.

The ARMM claimed  it had no authority to question the special power of attorney that Abdullah, Abdurjai and Enok held.  And so, the prohibited became the standard.

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Two stations—Cotabato Shell Service and Shariff Aguak Petron—were paid  P28.2 million for “fictitious” fuel use by ARMM offices. Owned and operated by Datu Unsay Mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr. (now  detained for the massacre), Shariff Aguak Petron claims to have  delivered from 70,000 to 556,730 liters a day.

“That is beyond the capacity of the fuel station to supply,” the COA snapped. Still the

ARMM paid the station a fixed amount of P1.03 million monthly.

The Cotabato Shell Service station  manager claimed that payments of P3.4 million were converted into cash by the payor. Of the checks converted into cash, P3.4 million has Datu Akhmad Ampatuan or Datu Sajid Islam Uy Ampatuan as co-payee. Thus, the absurd became customary.

Under-reporting to the Bureau of  Internal Revenue is endemic. Light Edge Marketing in Datu Odin Sinsuat got P99.3 million in ARMM contracts. About P84.2 million worth of projects had “no specific purpose,” auditors found. Light Edge Marketing reported income of only P17,980 to the Bureau of Internal Revenue.

Curveline Construction in Cotabato City got a P49.3 million contract. “It has no records on file with BIR Revenue District No. 107 in Cotabato City.”

Did taxpayers get value for money? The ARMM claimed that 26 kilometers of roads were rehabilitated. That turned out to be 2.9 km, according to the COA. Seven Maguindanao road projects billed at P181 million “were not visible.”  A reported 15 km of road was only a “mere trail.” Thus, the standard had become the distorted.

Unauthorized travel and duplicated reimbursement claims dunned  the agency for P8.64 million. Employee Cynthia Sayadi, for example, logged 43 trips, sometimes with co-employees. They billed various amounts ranging from P34,263 to P40,000.

Will taxpayers be able to get refunds from officials, contractors and assorted characters, as recommended by the COA? Show us the money.

The amounts plundered boggle the mind. To appreciate the obscenity, set the data  in context. The ARMM is the country’s most impoverished region. Life expectancy in Sulu is 56 years compared to 74 years in La Union. The Ampatuans have 24-plus mansions, but  46 out of every 100 residents in Maguindanao  drink from easily contaminated wells.

In exchange for rigged election results, the Arroyo regime gave ARMM warlords carte blanche for pillaging so  sustained that they shaped the mindsets of  public officials. Theft became the daily norm and integrity an orphan.

Political theorist Hannah Arendt calls normalizing of the unthinkable  the “banality of evil.” Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann ensured that “cobblestones, which paved the path to Auschwitz’s gas chambers, were perfectly scrubbed.” Over six million died in the Holocaust.

Here, the “banality of evil” spawned the Ampatuan town massacre of 32 journalists and 25 civilians. P-Noy calls that  utak wangwang.

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TAGS: Ampatuans, Aquino, arm, corruption, featured columns, maguindanao massacre, opinion, SONA 2011
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