Lawmakers on Wednesday told government officials not to cry over the loss of Aman Futures Group head Manuel Amalilio to the Malaysians and instead start prosecuting governors, mayors and other local government officials who were instrumental in luring thousands of their constituents into putting money in the con man’s Ponzi scheme.
“The government should not wait for Amalilio’s return but begin prosecution of mayors and governors involved,” Akbayan Rep. Walden Bello said.
“I think the evidence is very strong against them that the testimony of Amalilio will just be icing on the cake,” Bello said.
Amalilio was arrested in Sabah late last month on charges of passport fraud.
He pleaded guilty to the charges on Monday. He faced fine of up to 10,000 Malaysian ringgits (about P132,000) or imprisonment of two to five years or both.
Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said Philippine law would eventually catch up with Amalilio.
Valte said Amalilio’s imprisonment in Sabah meant only a delay in prosecuting him in the Philippines for cheating 15,000 Filipinos, who lost P12 billion in his Ponzi scheme.
“While there may be a delay, it’s not a deterrent” to exacting accountability from Amalilio, Valte said.
Close ties with Malaysia
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said the Philippines’ close ties with Malaysia would help the Department of Justice (DOJ) get Amalilio back.
“We believe the conviction of Amalilio by a Malaysian court is not the end of the world. It merely represents a delay in the attainment of that aspiration,” De Lima said in a statement she issued following Amalilio’s conviction in a Magistrates Court in Kota Kinabalu.
De Lima said the government would continue to “explore and exhaust all available and reasonable means” to ensure that Amalilio would face estafa charges in the Philippines.
“Our lines with our counterparts in the Malaysian government remain open. We shall count on the goodwill we have with them so that a solution can be arrived at,” De Lima said.
Isabela Rep. Giorgidi Aggabao said legal action on the Aman Futures scam should not wait for Amalilio’s return to the Philippines.
Aggabao said the local government officials who helped Amalilio con investors were “coprincipals in varying degrees of participation” with Aman Futures owner.
“Besides, they are solidarily liable with Amalilio for the civil indemnity owed the investors,” Aggabao said.
Aggabao stressed that the case should not live or die with Amalilio considering that Amalilio could not have won the trust of thousands of people into parting with their money on his own.
Sen. Francis Pangilinan said the government should not hang its head down after losing Amalilio but look forward to going after all people involved in the Aman Futures scam.
“Aman should be held to account for the scam but pending the resolution of his (Amalilio’s) case, [the] government should vigorously prosecute all others involved,” said Pangilinan.
Amalilio still key
But Sen. Serge Osmeña said that Amalilio was still the key to getting back the loot from Aman Futures.
“I am not a lawyer, but I believe Amalilio is the key. You may be correct [that governors and mayors were involved], but they will all claim they were all fooled by Aman,” Osmeña said.
Last November, the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) ordered an audit of provinces, cities, and towns in Zamboanga, Northern Mindanao, and Soccsksargen regions amid reports that billions of pesos of their internal revenue allotment (IRA) funds were invested in Amalilio’s scam.
With governors, mayors and other local government officials endorsing Aman Futures’ get-rich-quick scheme, thousands of people became confident and invested their savings in the scam only within weeks of its established early last year, initially in Pagadian City and later in Muslim communities in Mindanao and the Visayas.
Arrested last month
Amalilio was arrested in Kota Kinabalu last month for carrying fraudulent identification papers. A team from the National Bureau of Investigation went to Kota Kinabalu to escort him back home but his departure was stopped by Malaysian police for unclear reasons.
Sabah’s chief officer earlier said Malaysia was willing to turn over Amalilio but the Philippine government should observe proper procedures under the Association of Southeast Asian Nation’s Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters Acts 2002.
Minerva Retanal of the NBI antifraud unit said Amalilio is a Filipino. “Based on all the documents he submitted to various agencies he is Filipino,” she said.
Retanal said that based on her unit’s investigation, Amalilio also violated the Anti-Money Laundering Act.
More than 11,000 victims of Amalilio have formally filed their complaints in the NBI, she said.—With reports from Michael Lim Ubac, Christine O. Avendaño and Nancy C. Carvajal