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Pimentel says Ampatuans should account for P1.7 billion in CARP funds

Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Q. Pimentel, Jr. today said the Ampatuans should account for the P1.7 billion in agrarian reform fund that was released to the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao under anomalous circumstances during the first seven months of the year.

Pimentel said the huge amount was channeled by the Department of Budget and Management to the ARMM in five separate tranches upon recommendation of Agrarian Reform Secretary Nasser Pangandaman despite the failure of DAR and ARMM to submit a listing of specific projects as required by disbursement rules.

Moreover, he questioned the basis for giving out the money to the ARMM, then headed by Governor Zaldy Ampatuan, considering that the autonomous region does not fall under the coverage of CARP.

Of the Pl.7 billion that was released to the ARMM which is composed of five provinces, P500 million went to Maguindanao, the official records show.

“Although the huge lump sums in agrarian reform fund were released to the ARMM, there are widespread complaints that no actual development projects have been undertaken,” the senator from Mindanao said.

“There is a strong ground to believe that the money has been misused. This could be one of the probable sources of the fabulous but unexplained wealth of the Ampatuans. This could partly explain why they were able to acquire a lot of properties, several mansions in Maguindanao, Davao City, Metro Manila and other places.”

Pimentel said that he had exposed this illegal fund diversion several months ago but Secretary Pangandaman, as well as Malacañang and DBM officials have not bothered to give any explanation.

A listing of the special allotment release order (SARO) and Notice of Cash Allocation (NCA) under the CARP showed that the following lump sum amounts had been released to ARMM from February to July this year: P350 million on Feb. 15, P222.7 million on Feb. 15, P322.5 million on June 22, P400 million on June 2 and P373 million on July l.

Pimentel urged the Office of the Ombudsman to investigate these scandalous transactions by seeking an explanation from the Ampatuans, along with the finance officials of the DAR and ARMM, and even the resident auditor of the Commission on Audit.

“The Office of the Ombudsman should not sleep on the job. If there is evidence of fund misuse, they should file plunder cases against the Ampatuans and their accomplices. They would not be able to build those palatial mansions without the money stolen from government coffers,” he said.

The opposition senator said it is unconscionable that the people of Maguindanao and other ARMM provinces are being deprived of development projects and public services they are entitled to because they are regularly receiving funds from various sources.

Pimentel said that aside from the annual budget of ARMM, the region’s Provinces -- Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur, Basilan, Sulu and Tawi Tawi -- are also getting their shares of the Internal Revenue Allotment and development aid from donor-countries and multilateral financing institutions.

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