IF ANDAL AMPATUAN SR. and his sons ruled Maguindanao as if they owned the province, perhaps it was because they really owned a sizeable chunk of it – and parts of Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, Davao City, and Makati City as well.

Andal Sr. and his sons Andal Jr. and Zaldy Ampatuan, officials who hail from one of the poorest provinces in the country, own close to five million square meters of property scattered throughout Maguindanao, Cotabato, Davao, and even in ritzy Dasmariñas Village in Makati, according to records in the Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 22, where there is a pending civil forfeiture case against the Ampatuan properties.

If that figure is a little difficult to imagine for Filipino families who make do with 20 to 40 square meters of floor area, think in terms of this: Five million square meters is the equivalent of five square kilometers or 500 hectares of land.

By comparison, San Juan City in Metro Manila, according to the local government’s website, is all of 5.5 square kilometers, or just slightly bigger than the Ampatuans’ combined real property assets.

Overall, it’s not a bad deal for a family that claims to just live off the land. Andal Sr., after all, styles himself as a simple farmer, albeit one of royal lineage because of his datu heritage.

But if government prosecutors are to be believed, Andal Ampatuan Sr. may have gone a little too far in finding a patch of soil to plant his crops.

Last December, the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC), a government superbody tasked with investigating suspicious bank transactions and money laundering activities, secured a provisional asset preservation order (PAPO) or a freeze order against all the known Ampatuan properties from the Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 22.

The PAPO covers 224 bank accounts, 77 vehicles, 110 firearms, and 161 pieces of real properties allegedly owned or controlled by Andal Ampatuan Sr.’s branch of the clan. The PAPO, granted by Executive Judge Marino dela Cruz, prohibits the sale, transfer, or disposition of these properties while his court hears the civil forfeiture case filed by the AMLC against the Ampatuan clan’s assets.

The 161 pieces of real property ordered frozen by the court altogether come up to 5,002,656 square meters of land owned mostly by the three Ampatuan principals along with a few of their associates. The list of frozen real properties gives us a glimpse of just how extensive the economic clout of the clan has become, reaching far beyond the boundaries of Maguindanao province.

And by all indications, this is just the initial list, as the AMLC has hinted that it is still looking for more documents that would link other suspected properties to the Ampatuan clan. And the sad fact is, the government, three years after the Maguindanao Massacre, has yet to finish its inventory of the assets of the Ampatuans.

Part 2 and Sidebar 2 of our report are now online.

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