DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/26 November) — Whatever happened to the promises made by government officials immediately after the massacre of 58 persons in Ampatuan, Maguindanao on November 23, 2009, that government was going to go after the assets of the Ampatuans and investigate alleged use of government funds for their mansions, cars, guns and their private armies?
On December 7 last year, then Justice Secretary Agnes Devanadera said government was moving to freeze the assets of the family of three-term governor Datu Andal Ampatuan, Sr., a staunch political ally of then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo who called the patriarch, “Ama” (Father).
Devanadera said the Anti-Money Laundering Council had started looking into the assets of the Ampatuans and that a freeze order on the Ampatuan’s wealth may be forthcoming.
“We’re just waiting for the AMLC to do that,” she said.
A year later, the freeze order is still “forthcoming.”
The Ampatuans, credited for Arroyo’s victory and the 12-0 victory of her senatorial candidates in Maguindanao in 2004, were blamed for the carnage. Witnesses pointed to then Datu Unsay mayor Datu Andal Ampatuan, Jr., as having led about a hundred armed men in flagging down the convoy of the wife of then Vice Mayor (now Maguindanao Governor) Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu along the highway in Ampatuan town. Fifty-three members of the convoy and five passengers in two vehicles that happened to pass at the wrong time were herded towards the foot of Daguma Range, in Sitio Masalay, Barangay Salman, some 3. 5 kilometers from the highway, and there massacred before noon, most of them buried in three mass gravesites along with three vehicles crushed by a backhoe.
The Mangduadatu convoy, comprising 53 passengers including 32 from the media, the wife and two sisters of Mangudadatu and two female lawyers, was en route to the provincial office of the Commission on Elections in the next town, Shariff Aguak, to file Mangudadadatu’s certificate of candidacy for governor. The Mangudadatus, former allies of the Ampatuans, had been warned about possible violence should Toto push through with his candidacy. Andal Ampatuan Jr., had intended to run for governor, unopposed like his father was in 2007.
Instead of proceeding to Maguindanao himself, the Mangudadatus opted to send their women in the belief the women would not be harmed. They were accompanied in the trip by the lawyers and media.
It took three days before Ampatuan Jr. was turned in and it took the declaration of martial law in Maguindanao on December 4, 2009 for the patriarch to be arrested. Also arrested in the early hours of martial law were Ampatuan Sr.’s sons – Datu Zaldy, then governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao; Datu Anwar, then mayor of Sharif Aguak; and Datu Sajid, elected Vice Governor in 2007, appointed OIC Governor in early 2009. Also arrested was son-in-law Datu Akmad “Tata” Mamasapano, husband of the eldest daughter, Rebecca. Tata won as mayor of Mamasapano town in 2007 and appointed OIC Vice Governor in early 2009.
Also in early December last year, then Local Governments Secretary Ronaldo Puno told the Foreign Correspondents’ Association of the Philippines that there was still no evidence to prove that the Ampatuans had used money intended for development programs in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) to finance their private armies. But Puno added he had asked the Commission on Audit (COA) and the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) to form “special groups” to review how funds sent for ARMM development were spent.
No report of the “special groups” has been made public, if at all they were formed.
Puno also said an audit of the ARMM which Datu Zaldy Ampatuan headed since 2005, would be done but a similar audit could also be done of Maguindanao.
The COA in fact sent a team to do a special audit of Maguindanao. The team completed its probe before the third week of January when Bai Nariman Ambolodto was OIC Governor.
Until now, a year after the massacre, no report of the special audit, whether of the ARMM or of Maguindanao, has been made public.
The Office of the Deputy Ombudsman for Mindanao, on the other hand, conducted a lifestyle check on the Ampatuans which it vowed to hand in before Arroyo ended her term as President on June 30 this year. No copy of the report has also been made public.
On September 1 this year, MindaNews wrote the Deputy Ombudsman’s office for a copy of the report.
On September 14, Deputy Ombudsman for Mindanao Humphrey Monteroso sent a memorandum for Ombudsman Ma. Merceditas Gutierrez through Overall Deputy Ombudsman Orlando Casimiro on MindaNews’ letter-request for a copy of the report.
“Considering that the authority to grant the said request is not within the jurisdiction of the undersigned, the said letter-request is hereby referred to her Honor for appropriate action,” Monteroso wrote.
On September 22, Ana Blesilda Manglallan, Associate Graft Investigation Officer I, acknowledged receipt of MindaNews’ September 1 letter to Monteroso, “which was indorsed to and received by the Office of Legal Affairs, Office of the Ombudsman (in Quezon City) today, 22 September 2009.”
Manglallan said the letter was “assigned to one of the lawyers of the Office of Legal Affairs for appropriate action.”
That was the last communication from the Ombudsman’s office to MindaNews. It is now nearly three months since the request was made.
MindaNews checked with the Deputy Ombudsman’s office by telephone on November 25 if the request, made separately with a request for copies of the Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth of the new set of elected Mindanao officials for 2010 to 2013, had been acted upon.
MindaNews was told they would follow up the request with the main office in Quezon City. (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)