Ombudsman Mindanao ready with Ampatuan report this week

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/27 June) — The Office of the Deputy Ombudsman for Mindanao will submit to Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez this week its report on the lifestyle check it did on the government officials among the Ampatuans who are presently detained for the November 23, 2009 massacre in Maguindanao that left 58 persons dead, 32 of them from the media.

Rodrigo Elman, spokesperson of the Ombudsman-Mindanao, told MindaNews that the investigating team led by Deputy Ombudsman for Mindanao Humphrey Monteroso looked into the Ampatuans’ possible violation of RA 1379 (Forfeiture of Illegally Acquired Wealth)) and RA 3019 (Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices).

The team looked into the statements of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN) of the Ampatuans, and verified the declared properties such as lots and mansions and vehicles.

A member of the panel who asked not to be named said it took them a long time because documents that would stand in court were difficult to find. The panel member also said some properties identified with the Ampatuans are not in their names.

The same member also explained that “a lifestyle check really takes long, about a year” and that on top of this investigation, they have to attend to “600 to 700 cases.”

The Ampatuans in public office file their SALN every year. But whether or not they declare everything in their SALN,  the Ombudsman’s report may be able to answer.

In a three-part series in March this year, MindaNews and the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism found that Datu Unsay mayor Datu Andal Ampatuan, Jr., principal suspect in the November 23 Ampatuan Massacre is the richest among the Ampatuans, posting a net worth of P39.3 million as of yearend 2008, his SALN says.

The junior’s declared net worth is more than twice the declared net worth of his father, Datu Andal Ampatuan Sr., at P18.5 million as of yearend 2007; and his elder brother, Datu Zaldy, the governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, at P16.41 million as of yearend 2007, certified true copies of their SALN filed with the Office of the Deputy Ombudsman for Mindanao, showed.

Ampatuan Sr.’s net worth based on his SALN  as of yearend 2007 is P18.5 million, almost twice his net worth in 2001, his first year as Maguindanao governor.

Datu Zaldy, ARMM governor since 2005, declared a net worth of P13.93 M as of yearend 2005; P14.94 M as of yearend 2006 and P16.41M as of yearend 2007.

Of 39 landholdings listed in the name of the Ampatuans in Davao City,  four are owned by Maguindanao 2nd district Rep. Simeon Ampatuan Datumanong while 35 are owned by the Ampatuan patriarch and his family members, records of the City Assessors Office as of February 4, 2010 showed.

Of the 35 landholdings, however, 16 are in Ampatuan  Jr’.s name, eight are in Ampatuan Sr.’s, three are in the name of Rebecca Ampatuan, the eldest child of Ampatuan Sr. and Bai Laila Uy and wife of former Mamasapano mayor Akmad “Tato” Ampatuan; three in the name of Sajid; two in the name of Anwar, and three in the name of Bongbong Midtimbang Ampatuan, Datu Zaldy’s wife.

Curiously, Datu Zaldy has no Davao landholding in his name, according to the Assessor’s list.

The MindaNews/PCIJ report also noted that according to the records of the Land Transportation Office (LTO), the Ampatuans could have as many as 121 various vehicles, including at least 53 top-of-line luxury rides that are the latest of their kind.

The Ombudsman’s Office conducted the lifestyle check on the Ampatuans only after the November 23 massacre.

Section 8 of  RA 3019 (Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act) says that a public official can be dismissed if he “has been found to have acquired during his incumbency, whether in his name or in the name of other persons, an amount of property and/or money manifestly out of proportion to his salary and to his other lawful income.”

Sec. 15 of the Ombudsman Act (RA 6770), gives the office the authority to “investigate and initiate the proper action for the recovery of ill-gotten and/or unexplained wealth amassed after February 25, 1986 and the prosecution of the parties involved therein.”

Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez in an article published in Business Mirror on August 7, 2009 said RA 1379, enacted in 1955, gave the State the power to institute forfeiture proceedings against any public officer or employee to recover illegally-obtained property or wealth.

In aiming at the property of a public officer or employee that is manifestly out of proportion to his salary and his other income from lawful sources, forfeiture proceedings “seek to divest ownership in said property from the public officer or his dummies, and transfer it to the State on the theory that it is really State property or property stolen from the people.”

Forfeiture proceedings are civil and not criminal in nature, and may be proved by a preponderance of evidence only, not proof beyond a reasonable doubt.  They can also be filed as.independent civil actions in accordance with Sec. 3 of Executive Order No. 14.

Exclusive jurisdiction to try forfeiture cases was transferred by PD 1486 to the Sandiganbayan Court.

In another column piece, Gutierrez said a country like ours “cannot afford to condone illegally obtained wealth, which serves only to concentrate wealth to a few people, exacerbating an already existing structural weakness in our national life.”

“ We need rather to be concerned with the equitable distribution of wealth.  And in a way we can achieve this by using forfeited illegally acquired wealth to fund public, social and environmental services, as well as infrastructures needed by our people.  These services include continual road-building and street improvements, the provision of health and sanitation facilities especially in poorer barangays, the construction of modern and energy-efficient public buildings, the maintenance of public markets, the proper equipping of our police and military forces, the computerization of government transactions, and reforms in our electoral process,” she said.

Gutierrez added that illegally acquired wealth “also indicates that corruption thrives, that kind of corruption that over the decades has consigned our country from a well-respected nation in Asia to a nation akin to the likes of a man who could have been successful but has missed too many opportunities in the past and who is now left with too few options for a better life.”

“We must fight corruption in all its guises and manifestations, of which illegally obtained property and wealth is one, and motivate those who are in the forefront of this difficult fight, such as Ombudsman investigators and prosecutors.  Only then could we really get back, like the wealth held in trust for us, what is truly ours – our dignity – rebuild everything within us that has long been neglected or is already broken, so that we can stand once more on our own feet, proud in our ability and resolve to create a bright future for our country,” she wrote. (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)