All is quiet now on the street where the Ampatuans used to live

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DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/26 November) —  The neighbors have gotten used to the silence. The armed men are gone and ice drop peddlers now pass freely on the street where the Ampatuans used to live.

Until a year ago, members of the ruling political clan of  Maguindanao, the country’s third poorest province, moved around the subdivision’s main and side streets in convoys of mostly black SUVs, their escorts heavily armed, their wang-wang (sirens) blaring.

Today, the signage of the building permit of the unfinished — but would have been largest — mansion of  Datu Andal Ampatuan, Sr. in Juna Subdivision in Matina, is about to fall off; vines have climbed up the massive fence (not your simple concrete, by the way, but very thick defensive, decorative concrete fence wall) and grasses outside have grown untended.

UNFINISHED. Construction of what would have been the biggest mansion of the Ampatuans in Davao City -- in the name of Laila Uy, first wife of Datu Andal Ampatuan, Sr., -- stopped a few days after the November 23, 2009 massacre in Ampatuan, Maguindanao. MindaNews photo by Froilan Gallardo

Based on the records at the City Assessor’s, a copy of which MindaNews obtained early this year, the patriarch and members of his family have at least 15 parcels of land (ranging from 555 square meters to 4,015 square meters) in Juna Subdivision, home to Davao City’s old rich and famous and built their mansions there, the biggest, in the name of his first wife Bai Laila Uy Ampatuan, mother of  his politician-sons, Zaldy, Anwar, Andal, Jr. and Sajid.

STOPPED. Construction of what would have been the biggest mansion of the Ampatuans in Davao City stopped a few days after the November 23, 2009 massacre in Ampatuan, Maguindanao. MindaNews photo by Froilan Gallardo“They like it here because the subdivision is not gated and in terms of security, it would be hard to establish a pattern because they can leave or return to their houses using different streets,” a landowner in Juna Subdivision said. The landowner added that even if the property owner did not want to sell to the Ampatuans, he/she ended up selling because “they make you an offer you cannot resist. And they pay in cash.”

According to building permit 08071886 issued on July 2, 2008, a copy of which was also obtained by MindaNews, the floor area of the two-storey mansion is 2,705 square meters. That is  equivalent to 150 government low-cost housing units averaging 18 square meters each.

The entire lot – occupying more than half a block — can be approached through three streets. A stone’s throw away is the mansion known to be owned by Zaldy, then governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. It used to be the biggest in the neighborhood, until the construction of the neighboring mansion of his mother.

NO MORE CONVOYS. The long convoy of black SUVs that used to enter and leave the mansion of detained ARMM Gov. Zaldy Ampatuan in Juna Subdivision, Matina, Davao City, is gone.MindaNews photo by Froilan Gallardo

The cost of his mother’s mansion, according to the building permit, is P28.2 million. But those who see the structure believe it is an under-declaration judging by the defensive, decorative fence wall alone.

It was supposed to have been finished in February 2009 but construction was still going on a day after the massacre. Construction stopped a day or two later.

Aside from mansions here, in Maguindanao, Cotabato and Manila, the Ampatuans also had a fleet of SUVs and an arsenal of  weapons, including the very expensive ones.

The Ampatuans, allies of then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, flaunted their wealth like no other wealthy Mindanawon politician has, flew business class each time they traveled to Manila, and paid thousands of pesos for their bodyguards’ tickets and for the handling fees of their bodyguards’ guns flown on board.

The patriarch was also known for his high-stakes gambling.

But Rebecca Ampatuan-Ampatuan, the patriarch’s eldest daughter, explained to reporters last year that their wealth comes from their vast landholdings.

Asked about their mansions, Rebecca said,  in Pilipino, “my father has vast landholdings.”

She talked about their vast ricelands, coconut lands and cornlands.

“Maganda lupa kasi irrigated (The soil is good because it is irrigated), she said.

She said she does not know how many mansions her father and brothers have. But not all of their houses are mansions, she said.  Her house, she said, is small.

In the same interview, Rebecca was asked about reports that her father does not maintain a bank account but uses vaults allegedly to store money and guns. Her reply: the vaults are used to store documents.

Asked about allegations the Ampatuans are using the internal revenue allotment (IRA) of the local government units as their personal funds, Rebecca replied, “hindi ho ba nagsusueldo mga empleyado?” (are the employees not receiving their pay?”) (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)

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