The Commission on Audit has another horror story to tell about
that unlucky place called Maguindanao. COA Chair Grace Pulido Tan told the appropriations committee of the House of Representatives
last week that some P1.6 billion in government funds appeared to have vanished, between January 2008 and September 2009, with
hardly a trace. During that period, P873.4 million was released to fund 99 projects, but government auditors were able to
validate only P31.5 million worth of projects, leaving P842 million unaccounted for. At the same time, the provincial government
recorded 1,441 transactions with 31 suppliers, worth a total of P810 million. One supplier denied having entered into any
transaction with the government. The 30 others, who were paid out of cash advances, were found to be either operating without
business permits or to have given addresses that could not be located by the auditors. Tan described these projects and transactions
as “fictitious.” Andal Ampatuan Sr. was the provincial governor at the time...
Many other unethical and dishonest practices are set out in some
detail in the four-volume COA report. But what sticks out most prominently was how the Ampatuans and their cohorts in the
ARMM, and especially in their home province, operated outside any government accounting rules concerning the use of public
funds. But then given how they helped then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to secure the election results she wanted, they
must have helped themselves to government resources with nothing less than a sense of entitlement.
It is hardly surprising then that they were able to build such
a vast wealth that allowed them to construct two dozen mansions and maintain a well-armed private army that few dared to cross.
Neither is it surprising that when they felt that their hold on power over their turf was being challenged, the Ampatuans
struck down without compunction their political enemies and anyone who came between them.
Call it the logic of impunity. In their cold-blooded calculations,
the Ampatuans probably figured that if they could squander or steal billions in public funds, they just as easily could steal
lives. If they could get away with plunder, why couldn’t they get away with murder? -- Inquirer Editorial