Scams in ARMM bigger than thought
DAVAO CITY—Irregularities that led to the waste of hundreds of millions of pesos of public funds for nonexistent projects in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) are more massive than previously thought, a regional official said.
Darwin Rasul, assistant secretary at the ARMM’s Office of Special Concerns (OSC), said in one Tawi-Tawi town alone, which he would not name, the antigraft body formed by acting ARMM Gov. Mujiv Hataman has found that three school building projects reported to have been completed were actually nonexistent.
While he would not say how much money was wasted on the projects, Rasul said the ghost school buildings were worth “millions of pesos.”
He said the contracts for the construction of the school buildings, worth several millions of pesos, have been awarded and bid out by previous ARMM administrations “but are missing.”
Hataman succeeded acting Gov. Ansaruddin Adiong, who ran the ARMM for about a year following the suspension of then governor Zaldy Ampatuan over the Maguindanao massacre.
Rasul said across ARMM, officials discovered “more than 10” nonexistent school buildings since the OSC assessment started in March. He said the figures could even be higher once the OSC, tasked with auditing ARMM projects, finish investigating projects in the five provinces of the ARMM.
“When you look at the (project) report, you can see the projects already awarded and bid out, the mobilization funds already released. But when you check on the ground there is nothing,” he said.
Rasul said while some school building projects did exist, “some were not completed, or were badly and haphazardly done.”
Aside from school buildings implemented under a program of the ARMM’s Department of Education, he said the OSC was also looking into roads, bridges, pavements and other infrastructure projects implemented by the
ARMM’s Department of Public Works and Highways.
“The projects are [undertaken] by cluster, so there are projects,” Rasul said. The project costs could go as high as P900 million, he said.
He said it was up to Hataman what action to take against the parties involved.
“Whether to take legal action or not is up to the governor,” he said.
Rasul said his group’s assessment and monitoring process were continuing with help from the Asia Foundation and the United States Aid for International Development (USAID).
He said 11 OSC coordinators in the provinces of Basilan, Tawi-Tawi, Sulu, Lanao del Sur and Maguindanao had undergone a five-day intensive training on how to use the Quantum Geographical Information System (GIS) software, which will allow them to monitor projects on the ground using technology called geotagging.
Using a camera equipped with a global positioning system (GPS), the OSC coordinators will go to their areas to take pictures of the place where the projects are supposed to be located and upload pictures into the Quantum GIS software.
“They will take pictures of existing roads, facilities, marketplaces and boundaries, using a camera with a GPS, and when they come back, they load the data into the computer,” GIS specialist Maribeth Casten said.
Rasul said the system will make it easier to check whether the picture they took on the ground matched data in the group’s database.
“Once we discover something anomalous, then we report it to the governor,” Rasul said.
“The wisdom of geotagging is to make the validation more accurate, more effective and faster. This is part of the ARMM government’s reform program to make public servants accountable,” he said. Germelina Lacorte, Inquirer Mindanao