Ampatuan brothers Sajid, Andal Jr charged over alleged ghost projects

MANILA, Philippines – Former Maguindanao governor Datu Sajid Islam Ampatuan and his brother, former Datu Unsay, Maguindanao mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr, and several others were charged with corruption over alleged ghost projects in their province.

In 2009, Sajid approved 12 construction projects in Maguindanao worth a total of P95 million, all of which turned out to be fake, according to the investigation of the Office of the Ombudsman.

For one type of project, Sajid awarded millions of pesos worth of contracts without public bidding to a company owned by Andal Jr. For another type, he also allegedly faked suppliers and contractors.

Sajid has been charged with 161 counts of corruption before anti-graft court Sandiganbayan, while Andal Jr faces 8 counts of graft. Former provincial officials were similarly charged for their participation in the anomalous projects.

"We cannot make any comment at the moment because as you know the cases filed relate to voluminous documents and we claim that all those contracts or procurements passed through the regular process of procurement, bidding, and audit," Sajid's lawyer Gregorio Marquez said.

No public bidding

The charges before the Sandiganbayan, contained in 482 pages of documents filed on April 21, stem from highly irregular projects in 2009 before Sajid was placed behind bars.

Sajid was jailed in 2010 for being one of the primary suspects in the November 2009 Maguindanao massacre which killed 58 people, the worst case of election-related violence in the country. He acquired temporary freedom in January 2015 after a trial court allowed him to post bail of P11.6 million. (READ: Grand welcome for Ampatuan son out on bail)

The 12 projects were simultaneous, carried out from March to September 2009.

In the first project type, the Maguindanao provincial government rehabilitated 7 roads and renovated the municipal hall in Shariff Aguak from May to August.

The Petron branch in Shariff Aguak was hired to supply the fuel and lubricant needs for the 8 renovation projects. The awarding of contracts did not undergo public bidding, according to state investigators. Petron Shariff Aguak was owned by Andal Jr, another suspect in the Maguindanao massacre.

For the irregular awarding of a total of P22.4 million in contracts, Sajid, Andal Jr, and other provincial officials were charged with 8 counts of graft.

Sajid faces another 8 counts of falsification of documents after it was found that statements of work accomplished for 8 projects were fake. Not a single project was actually undertaken.

Fake school repairs

Almost simultaneously, from March to September, the provincial government began repairing schools all over Maguindanao.

The Ombudsman's charge sheets do not specify which schools in which parts of Maguindanao the repairs were supposedly for.

The government paid a total of P72.26 million to 4 suppliers of lumber and other materials.

But state investigators found that not only were these projects fictitious, the suppliers were all fake as well. They appear on paper as Andong Lumberyard and Construction, Nasser Lumberyard and Construction, Ismael Lumberyard and Construction, and Usman Lumberyard and Construction.

"No such purchase was made as the purported suppliers are fictitious and non-existing entities, resulting to the damage and prejudice of the government," reads the charge sheet.

The amounts were "paid" in tranches to the 4 fake suppliers. Sajid and his provincial officials were found to have made up facts in 137 instances in the course of releasing disbursement vouchers (DVs).

For that they are facing 137 counts of falsification of documents charges.

Sajid also faces 4 graft charges and 4 malversation charges for the fake school repair projects.

The malversation charges are for "unlawfully and feloniously taking, misappropriating or appropriating into themselves public funds resulting to the damage and prejudice of the government."

All in all, Sajid's recommended bail stands at P4 million. Former provincial engineer Landap Guinaid is Sajid's co-accused in all 161 charges, which means he also has to pay P4 million.

Andal Jr's recommended bail for his graft charges is P120,000.

Others charged

Also facing charges are 11 provincial officials and employees.

Ampatuan patriarch Andal Sr was governor of Maguindanao when he resigned in January 2009 and Sajid took over. At the time, Andal Jr was mayor of Datu Unsay town and was aiming to succeed Sajid as governor. His challenger for the post was then Buluan vice mayor Esmael Mangudadatu.

It was Mangudadatu's convoy that was attacked in November 2009, leading to the killings of 58 people, including 32 journalists who were supposed to cover Mangudadatu's filing of his certificate of candidacy. Mangudadatu himself was not part of the convoy. He was represented by his wife, who got killed along with other relatives.

Andal Sr, Andal Jr, and their brother Zaldy Ampatuan were among the principal suspects. They were all jailed along with Sajid until the latter was granted bail in 2015.

Andal Jr and Zaldy remain in jail, while Andal Sr passed away in July 2015 due to complications from liver cancer. (READ: Death of Andal Ampatuan Sr not the end of clan rule in Mindanao)

Not a single person has been convicted for the massacre. Last November, the Department of Justice said key suspects would be convicted "in the next few years."

Earlier this year, the Office of the Ombudsman filed a forfeiture case against Andal Sr's alleged ill-gotten wealth amounting to P54.9 million. Maguindanao is among the poorest provinces in the entire country. – Rappler.com

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.

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