Dark days ahead at investment scam ‘ground zero’
PAGADIAN CITY—Just two months ago, the small Internet café in San Pedro village here, a kilometer from the abandoned office of Aman Futures Group Phils. Inc., was bustling with life, with customers keeping its 10 computer units humming.
Today, the cubicles are empty and the business seemingly doomed, no thanks to the Aman Futures pyramid scam that sucked the savings of this city’s residents.
“I am folding up by December if business does not pick up,” said the café’s owner Andres who, like most people interviewed on the scam, preferred to be identified only by their first name. “I am bleeding from the electricity and rental costs,” he said tearfully.
Since the investment scheme went bust, Andres said very few have come to his Internet shop to play online games, do research and print documents.
Most of his regular customers are from Barangay Kawit, ground zero of the pyramiding scam that also victimized his family.
“My losses may be small compared to the others, but it was a fortune for [us],” said Andres who recounted how, on Sept. 5, he plunked down close to P200,000 on a 20-day placement with Aman Futures because of “a guaranteed 62-percent return.”
Because of processing delays, he was unable to get the promised cash on Sept. 25. When he returned on the afternoon of the following day, Aman Futures had declared that it had “stopped [all] transactions” because its business permit from the local government was not renewed.
Gone was the P200,000 fund Andres had pooled from his family’s savings, from friends and other family members.
“My savings could have gone to renovating another rented space where my wife and I plan to set up a small cafeteria,” Andres lamented. “We wanted to open another business before the year ends,” he added, shaking his head.
Took his chances
“From the start, I knew it was a scam and bound to burst like a bubble, but I took my chances,” explained the business administration graduate.
“For those of us who have simple hopes and limited means, the idea of hitting [the big] time … is very attractive. It was just unfortunate that we came in late,” Andres added.
In Barangay Kawit, life has returned to normal, according to residents.
Motorcabs and bikes are back on the paved barangay road where, just a few months back, flashy cars and SUVs sporting “for registration” plates cruised leisurely.
Kawit, a community of more than 6,000 people with large pockets of urban poor settlers, has mixed tales about Aman Futures.
Some folks became millionaires overnight, while others, who similarly got the chance to pocket millions, lost everything in a flash. These included middle-class families who sold their properties, lured by the prospect of instant and spectacular wealth.
“We got tempted; who wouldn’t?” several Kawit residents said philosophically.
One of them laughed off the misfortune: “At least some people were able to hold that much money, if only for a while.”
But others are not as buoyant, weighed down by their loss.
Two months after the scam unraveled, Linda admitted to worrying about her problem even in school.
“It still hurts,” said this public school teacher. “Instead of earning money, we have nothing now,” she added.
Linda’s friend, Sheila, a government employee, said she borrowed her expected bonus and 13th-month pay in advance to invest with Aman Futures without her husband’s knowledge.
“Now I’m left with a huge debt and face the new year with a reduced pay for nothing,” she added.
A few folk, among them motorcab driver Carmelo, managed to hit pay dirt before the investment scheme collapsed. Carmelo’s dilapidated shack has been replaced by a concrete house, thanks to Aman Futures.
“When I learned of the scheme, I was immediately attracted, and just ignored issues about it,” he said.
But with the scam getting all the hype, Carmelo said he felt for the others who lost their money and remained hopeful that Aman Futures “can [recover] and help more poor people.”
Not far from Carmelo’s new home is another concrete house, now deserted. Its owners had sold it and used the proceeds to invest in Aman Futures in mid-September.
Neighbors said the deserted house was a stark illustration of how the investment scam had turned their fortunes around. Ryan D. Rosauro, Inquirer Mindanao