How did the Ampatuans get so rich in a province like Maguindanao that is so poor?

This is the dark mystery that Part 2 of our three-part investigative report on the wealth of the Ampatuans seeks to unravel.

In Maguindanao, the nation’s third poorest province, the poverty incidence is a staggering 62 percent – five of every six residents live on less than a dollar a day. And by all indications, every single sixth resident who is not poor could be an Ampatuan by blood or affinity.

But in the midst of all that poverty, Maguindanao and the Ampatuans have always been awash in cash, not so much because of any economic activity of note, except for agriculture and occasional kidnap-for-ransom episodes in the area.

The cash came nearly entirely from Manila, courtesy of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, who has pampered the province and the clan as if they were her spoiled twins.

In her nine years in power, President Arroyo has poured billions of pesos into the province in internal revenue allotment (IRA), public works budget, and other lump-sum funds. After all, she has nurtured a deep friendship with the Ampatuans, who delivered landslide victory margins for her and her senatorial candidates in the 2004 and 2007 elections. The Ampatuans were Arroyo’s anointed lieutenants in ARMM, their alliance built largely on largesse.

The PCIJ and MindaNews, an independent media agency based out of Davao City jointly conducted this three-part investigation. MindaNews’s editor in chief, Ms Carolyn O. Arguillas, authored Parts 1 and 2 of the report, with paper-trail research conducted by the PCIJ’s editors and staff writers.

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