First published on Nov. 22, 2012

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.

“He (Andal Sr.) has always said he is a farmer by profession,” says Datu Ishak Mastura of the Ampatuan clan patriarch. Mastura belongs to one of the older clans of Maguindanao, and like the Ampatuans, claims a royal lineage that traces back to Shariff Kabunsuan, who established the first Maguindanao sultanate in the 16th century.

“He has always said, ‘I am good with the soil. It is what I know,’” Mastura relates. “That is why he planted corn, planted rice, planted coconut.”

Not just patches

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 de la 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.

Of the grand total, Andal Sr. and his wife Bai Laila own roughly half, or 2,547,826 square meters in 48 properties scattered in Davao, Cotabato, and Maguindanao. Most of that land, around 2.4 million square meters, is located in his home province of Maguindanao. Interestingly, of the 48 properties in question, 27 were acquired only in the last 10 years, or after 2001, the year he became governor of Maguindanao.

Massive estates

In the AMLC list, Andal Sr. owns six properties in Davao, another three in Cotabato City, and 34 properties in Maguindanao. His first wife Bai Laila in turn owns three properties in Cotabato and two in Maguindanao.

The couple’s properties include the massive Ampatuan grand mansion along Kasuy Street in Juna Subdivision, Davao City, which spans an entire subdivision block. The mansion is complete with solar panels on the roof, and reportedly has an indoor swimming pool. The high concrete-and-tile walls surrounding the property also have what appear to be gun ports staggered after every few meters.

The mansion has already become a tourist attraction of sorts, with Davaoeños bringing their visitors for a quiet tour around the walls of the mansion. But it remains unfinished, and now appears to be uninhabited; half the walls wrapping the entire block is still unpainted. Graffiti against the Ampatuan clan has also been sprayed on the massive steel gates.

Andal’s son and namesake, Andal Ampatuan Jr., former Mayor of Datu Unsay town in Maguindanao, follows with total properties amounting to 1,051,396 square meters. Of these properties on the AMLC list, four are in Davao City, 11 in Cotabato City, and another 16 in Maguindanao.

Zaldy Ampatuan, former Regional Governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), comes in third with land holdings amounting to 847,447 square meters. Zaldy’s properties, in keeping with his rank, include a mansion in upscale Dasmariñas Village in Makati, and a condominium unit in the heart of the Makati Central Business District. The mansion in Dasmariñas Village, Makati, however, was never placed under Zaldy’s name, according to reliable sources who had access to the Ampatuans; rather, the property was purchased for Zaldy by a middleman, and then later allegedly sold to his lawyer Redemberto Villanueva, who has been included by the AMLC in the list of people whose assets are to be frozen.

But the source privy to the Ampatuans’ dealings says that Zaldy would often stay in the Dasmariñas mansion whenever he is in Manila. All documents and correspondence meant for him are said to have also been delivered there from the ARMM satellite office in the Makati Central Business District.

Still, this did not stop Zaldy from acquiring yet another property in Makati, this time along Pasong Tamo in the heart of Makati, according to AMLC.

Curiously, a mansion known by many Davaoeños to belong to Zaldy does not appear on the AMLC list. The mansion also occupies an entire block in Juna Subdivision, Davao City, apparently a favored village of the Ampatuans. The mansion has the trademark high walls of the Ampatuan residences that make them look like fortifications. A close-circuit television camera also guards every corner of the block.

Taxpayers paid

If the properties seem bewildering in their size, scope, and price, that’s because they were bought with taxpayers’ money, says the AMLC.

The forfeiture case stems from AMLC’s charge that the Ampatuans had amassed wealth that is ill-gotten in nature, and far beyond their legitimate income in government. The charge is based on the findings of two fact-finding bodies that conducted investigations in Maguindanao in the wake of the Maguindanao massacre: a special probe by the Commission on Audit (COA) on spending by the ARMM from January 2008 to September 2009; and a lifestyle check conducted by Deputy Ombudsman for Mindanao Humphrey Monteroso on Andal Sr., Andal Jr., and Zaldy Ampatuan.

The COA report noted glaring anomalies in the use of P2.559 billion in operational funds transferred to the ARMM Office of the Regional Governor from 2008 to 2009. The COA went as far as to say that up to P1.003 billion in transactions by ARMM “may not be considered valid or legitimate” because these were supported by “spurious documents.”

The other findings include:

  • Cash advances in the hundreds of millions of pesos “given within a few days of receipt of funds despite the rule that payments must be made by check”;
  • Daily payments for transactions as high as P13.48 million;
  • Purchases without public bidding; and
  • Suppliers who turned out to be non-existent.

Lifestyle check

If the COA report was damning, the Ombudsman’s lifestyle report took things a step further; the Ombudsman found that the Ampatuans had a lifestyle that far exceeded their earnings as government officials. Moreover, most of the properties identified with the Ampatuans were not even listed in the asset statements that government officials are supposed to submit every year.

“An initial evaluation of the allegations in the final report will show that it exposed a number of properties purchased by respondents while in government service which were not reflected in the respective SALNS (statements of assets, liabilities, and net worth) of the respondents; moreover they failed to identify financial connection/business interest that could have explained the disproportions to their declared legitimate income in their submitted SALNs,” the Ombudsman report stated.

For example, in the last SALN he filed for the year 2007, Andal Sr. claimed a net worth of only P18.5 million, broken down into P26 million in real and personal properties, minus P8.2 million in liabilities. Furthermore, Andal Sr. reported only an annual gross salary of P597,919.

As for his real properties, Andal Sr. only declared an agricultural property in Shariff Aguak with a fair market value of P4 million; agricultural land in Ampatuan town with a market value of P3.5 million; and three houses and lots in Shariff Aguak with market values of P670,000, P3 million, and P13 million, respectively.

Undeclared: P68.9M

But in its own report to the Manila RTC hearing the civil forfeiture case, AMLC listed a total of 48 real properties under the name of Andal Sr. The list is based on the reports submitted by other government agencies such as the Land Registration Authority in the case of real properties, the Land Transportation Office in the case of motor vehicles, and the Philippine National Police in the case of firearms.

Quoting from the lifestyle check report of the Ombudsman, AMLC told the court that Andal Sr. failed to declare at least P68,956,762 worth of real properties in his SALN.

“The undeclared real properties can neither be explained nor justified by his net or disposable income as derived from his annual income tax returns,” AMLC said.

Furthermore, AMLC said Andal Sr. “also owns at least 91 vehicles with an estimated value of P111,235,016, some of which were registered in his name, and some in the name of his wife Bai Lala Uy Ampatuan.”

These findings, AMLC told the court, leads the government to the conclusion that Andal Sr. “amassed unexplained wealth manifestly and excessively out of proportion to his legitimate income from 2000 to 2009 in the aggregate amount of P183,424,326.71 based on the net-worth method.”

Zaldy’s other assets

The same seems to hold true for Zaldy’s SALN, says AMLC. In his 2007 asset declaration, Zaldy only declared the existence of an agricultural land and a residence in Shariff Aguak, a house in Cotabato City, and two houses and lots in Davao City. Zaldy declared a total of P17.6 million in real properties in vehicles.

Factoring in P3.5 million in cash and P5 million in liabilities, Zaldy declared a net worth of P16,410,000 for the year 2007. AMLC, however, believes that Zaldy and his wife Johaira own at least 18 real properties from Dasmariñas to Davao.

PCIJ sought comments from the Ampatuan family through their lead lawyer in the multiple murder case, Sigfrid Fortun.

Fortun said it was unlikely that the Ampatuans would agree to an interview. Still, Fortun said the AMLC data was “hilarious” in that it contained estimates that were culled from the Internet.

Fortun also said that the AMLC case was based on a probe done by the Ombudsman “which was never completed, but which the AMLC used as basis for their own case with the CA (Court of Appeals).”

Prior to the filing of the civil forfeiture case with the Manila RTC, the Ampatuans and the AMLC had fought it out in the Court of Appeals after AMLC asked the appellate court for a preliminary freeze order on the assets.

Clan ‘illiquid’

In their pleadings before the CA, the Ampatuan family’s lawyers argued that AMLC violated the clan’s right to due process by preempting the Ombudsman’s own probe into the matter. Andal Sr.’s lawyers said that AMLC had filed forfeiture proceedings against the Ampatuans based on a preliminary report by Deputy Ombudsman Monteroso, when even the Ombudsman had not yet acted on that particular report.

In an emailed reply to questions sent by the PCIJ in 2011, Fortun had also said, “As far as I know, Andal Sr. is illiquid and has no cash to spend for his families’ needs. As stated in his comment to the AMLA and COA Lifestyle Check Panel Report, most of the assets listed as theirs are not owned by them as the Panel made assumptions without factual basis. Some of their source documents are dated or obsolete.”

“Andal Sr.’s comment admits ownership of some but not all properties listed as his,” the lawyer added in his email. “Most are imputed to him but are not actually his nor are they currently registered in his name.”

Furthermore, Fortun said that Andal’s wife belonged to a landed family, and this was one of the major sources of the family’s properties.

“Leila Iu’s (Andal Sr.’s first wife) family has significant landholdings which became revenue source for new businesses organized by Andal Sr. before he became a public official.” Fortun said. “Most of the properties registered in his name were acquired before he became a public official.”

One can’t refuse

Mastura comments that Andal Sr. has a reputation for persuading others to sell him their lands for a price much favorable to him, especially since he became governor of Maguindanao.

“There were also stories about him grabbing lands because he saw the value of lands,” Mastura says. “As a farmer, he saw the value of lands.”

“But it was not pure land grabbing in the sense of, you know, occupying it and saying it is mine. He offered you a price you could not refuse,” Mastura says with a laugh.

“So that is how he accumulated some of those lands,” he adds. “Now, we do not know what will happen to those lands because some of them have been reoccupied by the original owners, but the titles are still in the name of the Ampatuans.”

It may never be totally clear how the clan acquired all their assets, and with what money. Yet even worse, other than the eight real properties of Andal Jr. that had been transferred in the name of his lawyer Arnel C. Manaloto, it is as unclear whether or not many other and bigger Ampatuan assets have also been disposed or dissipated under the noses of government officials and the courts.

To complicate matters, neither AMLC nor the court knows for sure how many real properties the Ampatuans actually own.

The Bangko Sentral media affairs office, in an email to the PCIJ on AMLC’s behalf, said that the list of properties that the Ampatuans own is far from complete.

The BSP added that the government may yet update the list of real properties with the Manila court as soon as more documents become available.

“Properties we had no documentary evidence to prove the ownership were excluded from the civil forfeiture case,” the BSP said. “However, as soon as these documents become available, and it is established that all the properties are owned by the respondents in the civil forfeiture case, we will request the Office of the Solicitor General to file the appropriate pleading in court to include these properties in the petition for civil forfeiture.”

The list remains incomplete three years after the Maguindanao massacre of Nov. 23, 2009, which claimed 58 lives, including that of 32 media workers

(Editor's Note; First published on Nov. 22, 2012, PCIJ.)