Mindset Of Abuse

by Juan L. Mercado

Flip through the four-volume audit of Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao and Maguidanao. They’re case-studiesof utak wangwang, a phrase President Benigno Aquino minted in “State of the Nation” address.

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

Commission on Audit documents that mindset of abuse in 515-pages of facts, data and tables on ARRM operations. Daily, citizens interact with government at town and province levels.

For 2008 and 2009, ARRM’s public works office fiddled with P2.82B – that’s billion. ARRM claimed it completed 685 major projects, from Lanao del Sur to Basilan. Zaldy Ampatuan served as regional governor then. Maguinadanao gobbled P794.2M.

Led by Susan Gracia, 18 auditors documented how spurious contractors pocketed P1.12B. In Maguindanao, 27 ghost projects chewed up P422.7M. No public bids were called for P1.5B worth of projects. “Disbursements for P9.9M were unrecorded.”  

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

Of P2.4B worth of checks issued, P1.86B were disbursed as cash advances by Provincial Treasurer Osmena Bandila and Cashier Tonina Balono. They liquidated only P1.79B. Bandila cash holdings crested at P296.9M.

“Cash advances is a common and normal practice”, Bandila told COA.  Claimants want payments in cash, due to conflicts. 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 made to cash advance P31,220,389.14 by my superior,” Cashier 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. Abudallh, Alfaizar Abdurjai and Amirili Enok encashed 41 percent of ARRM checks, payable to 89 suppliers and local government units,”. “Sixty nine checks, payable to 14 suppliers, were deposited to two common bank accounts.”

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

ARRM 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.

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

“That is beyond the capacity of the fuel station to supply”, COA snapped. Still ARRM paid the station a fixed amount of P1.03M monthly.

Cotabato Shell Service station  manager claimed that payments of P3.4M were converted into cash by the payor. Of the checks converted into cash, P3.4M 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 town, got P99.3M in ARRM  contracts. About P84.2M  of projects had “no specific purpose”,  auditors found. But it reported income of only  P17,980 to the Bureau of Internal Revenue. Curvline Construction in Cotabato City got a P49.3M contract. “It has “no records on file with BIR  Revenue District No 107 in Cotabato City.”

Did taxpayers get value for money?  ARRM claimed that, 26 kilometers of roads were rehabilitated. That turned out to be 2.9 kilometers.”COA reported. Seven road Maguindano road projects, billed at P181M “were not visible. “A reported 15 kms road was only a “mere trail.”  Thus, the standard had become the distorted.

Unauthorized travel and duplicating reimburswement claims dunned the agency for P8.64M million.  Employee Cynthia Sayadi, for example, logged 43 trips, sometimes with co-employees, billing various amounts: P40,000 to P34,263.

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

The amounts plundered, boggle the mind. To appreciate the obscenity, set the data in context.  ARRM 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.

That’s is the result of a swap. In exchange for rigged election results, the Arroyo regime gave ARRM warlords carte blanche for pillaging so sustained, they shaped mindsets of public officials. Theft became the daily norm and integrity an orphan.

Political theorist Hannah Arendt calls normalizing of the unthinkable as the “banality of evil.”  Nazi war criminal  Adolph Eichmann  ensured that  “that  cobblestones, which paved the oath to Auschwitz 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.

( Email: juanlmercado@gmail.com)

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