[PHOTO - MANUEL AMALILIO: Suspected mastermind disappears. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO]

ZAMBOANGA, NOVEMBER 19, 2012 (INQUIRER) By Julie Alipala, Richel Umel Inquirer Mindanao - Retired school supervisor Cristituto Potayre of Pagadian City had hoped to triple his retirement pay after 30 days when he invested in a scheme run by Pasay City-based Aman Futures Group Phils. Inc.

But Potayre’s money “vanished into thin air” instead, according to Zamboanga del Sur Gov. Antonio Cerilles.

One day, Cerilles said, apparently unable to accept his loss, Potayre committed suicide.

Marcia Agueda, 48, a Pagadian City resident, said her neighbor who was a soldier put in P300,000 that he had secured as a loan from the Armed Forces of the Philippines Savings and Loan Association (AFPSLAI) after being convinced that he could at least double it after a certain period.

“He could only vent his ire on plants after losing his money in Aman,” Agueda said, referring to Aman Futures Group Phils. Inc.

Like the soldier, Agueda also lost money, P1.3 million, in the investment scheme that Aman—owned by Manuel Amalilio, said to be a Filipino-Malaysian—had trumpeted.

Potayre, Agueda and the soldier were among thousands of victims of the “double your money” scheme pulled by Aman Futures, whose operators, like the investors’ money, have disappeared.

Agueda said what could have convinced more people to invest in the scheme was that many had actually earned money from the initial cash pool.

“I had initially invested P100,000 and it doubled after the first month. I was enticed to pour in more, about P1.3 million. Many people invested with me. We lost our money,” she said.

P700,000 loan

A 53-year-old housewife lost her husband’s AFPSLAI loan of P700,000 in the Aman scheme.

But what worries her more is that her husband, a Marine officer assigned in Cotabato, enticed other Marine officers into investing in the scheme.

In all, their group lost P3.7 million in September when Aman defaulted on payments.

“(Aman) said it was only closing due to its failure to renew its permit to operate in Pagadian City,” she said. But Aman never reopened. And it did not return their money.

The housewife, who requested anonymity for personal reasons, said what made her case worse was that she had nothing to prove she invested in Aman.

“All my receipts had been turned over to an Aman staff,” she said.

Mayor Co

So when Pagadian Mayor Samuel Co announced that all those with original receipts would be issued checks, the housewife said she sighed with relief.

But the checks that Co had issued bounced for lack of funds.

Cerilles said Co could be instrumental in the operation of Aman in Pagadian City.

“He is simply not an investor because when Aman shut down, he assured the people they could get their money back,” he said.

Mayor Co denied issuing checks to investors.

“The checks we gave out were recovered from the Aman office here. I did not issue these checks. We just distributed,” Co told the Philippine Daily Inquirer by phone.

Co also denied being involved in the scam, saying his name was being dragged because of politics.

Cerilles said the Aman scheme was quite a serious matter that needed a deeper investigation, which should lead to the prosecution of those behind it.

A few days ago, pandemonium erupted in Barangay (village) Kawit in Pagadian as thousands of people converged near the office of Aman Trading.

Aman had ceased to operate, defrauding thousands of investors of their hard-earned money, most of whom were ordinary citizens.

What made the situation more confusing is the entry of the city mayor of Pagadian, who claimed he was authorized to distribute checks issued by Aman Trading,” Cerilles said in a letter he sent to the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI).

“The extent of the scandal was so grave that ordinary people like farmers, teachers, vendors, fishermen, soldiers, lawyers, housewives and prominent people were victimized,” he added.

The exact number of victims was still being determined, Cerilles said, but in Pagadian City alone, it would easily reach 8,000.

Among the victims are members of the Pagadian City Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Macapagal Pantaran, a chamber official, said he lost P263 million in the scheme.

“More than 90 percent of businessmen in Pagadian City have invested with Amalilio,” Pantaran said.

Quite attractive

The scheme was so attractive that even a religious group pooled its members’ money to invest in Aman.

Pastor Hipolito Paner of the Christ the Lord of Glory group said at least 1,000 members managed to raise millions and put it in Aman.

Paner urged Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas, who came to Pagadian City on Friday, to help the defrauded investors run after Amalilio and other Aman officials.

Roxas was also told that there were reports that many local governments in Mindanao also used their internal revenue allotments (IRA) to invest in Aman.

Roxas pledged to look into the report and said he would order an audit of the IRA of some local governments, including Pagadian City.

“This is sad but we will do our best to prosecute those involved,” he said.

Chief Supt. Mario Yanga, deputy director for administration of the Western Mindanao police, said the investigation into Aman’s activities was being spearheaded by the NBI.

Cebu victims

In Cebu City, three businessmen will bring charges against Aman in the hope of getting back P100 million in vanished investments.

Ayubkhan Conding, Agakhan Dianalan and Mamad Conding visited Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Director Lindeza Gavino on Tuesday to secure documents about the company.

The businessmen come from Lanao del Sur but are based in Cebu and engaged in buying and selling vehicles, cell phones and laptops.

In an interview, Dianalan said he wanted to get back the P30 million he invested because part of the money came from his relatives who, believing they would get high returns, entrusted their money to him.

Ayubkhan invested P39 million while Mamad’s investment reached P57 million.

Mamad and Ayubkhan, who are cousins, also told the Inquirer that part of the money they invested came from their relatives.

Dianalan said that they decided to invest in Aman after they learned that the mayor of Pagadian City invested in the company and even issued a business permit to the company to operate in the city.

The three had asked Cebu journalists to blur their photos and footages that showed them as they were afraid for their lives.

They recounted that in Lanao, some of the investors have threatened to kill those who put in the investment for them if their money would not be returned.

Mamad said they wanted to ensure their safety, as their relatives have been demanding the return of their money.

Dianalan said that it was a “painful” learning experience for him because he lost not only his money but also his relatives’ money.

Next time, he said, he would carefully check the background of any company that would offer lucrative schemes to him before plunking down his money.

He said he and his two companions had yet to determine what charges to bring against Aman.

Gavino said the three businessmen were the first complainants in Cebu to come to her office.

Cease and desist order

She said the local SEC office received the cease and desist order issued by the Manila head office on Oct. 16, which was posted in the Aman office in Keppel building at the Cebu Business Park.

A copy of the order was also posted on the house at 99 Espina Village B. Rodriguez St., the address given by Amalilio in Cebu City.

Gavino said the company was not incorporated in Cebu, although the incorporators were based in Cebu. With a report from Carmel Loise Matus, Inquirer Visayas

Mindanao lawmaker calls for probe into pyramid scams By Nancy C. Carvajal

MANILA, Philippines — A Mindanao congressman is set to file a resolution in the House of Representatives to investigate the multi-billion-peso scam that had rocked the region.

Lanao del Norte Rep. Vicente Belmonte Jr., chairman of the House committee on dangerous drugs, said he would call for the inquiry and would extend an invitation to all those who were involved in the scam perpetrated by Aman Futures Inc. and the Jachob “Coco” Rasuman group.

“I will file a resolution to conduct a house investigation on the scam in aid of legislation and will invite those who were involved and I will invite you,” Belmonte said in a telephone interview.

Belmonte called up this reporter on Sunday, to deny reports of his involvement with Rasuman who, according to the National Bureau of Investigation, pulled off an even bigger fraudulent money-making scheme than that of Aman Futures headed by a Malaysian, Manuel Amalilio.

“I am never a protector and an investor of Rasuman,’’ Belmonte said.

Belmonte was reacting to a Philippine Daily Inquirer story which cited an NBI intelligence report that linked him to Rasuman.

Mayor Lawrence Cruz of Iligan City also called up to deny reports of his involvement in the Rasuman group. “I have not invested a single centavo in the two scam companies and was never their protector,’’ Cruz said in the telephone interview.

However, Belmonte and Cruz confirmed in separate interviews with the Inquirer a part of the NBI report that stated Rasuman held office and conducted his transactions in Iligan city.

The two said in separate interviews that Rasuman’s investors were the region’s wealthy and influential who conducted their bank transactions in the city.’

Belmonte further said he did not know Rasuman personally, and met him only once when Rasuman visited him at his house in April 2012.

He described Rasuman as young and around “27-years old.’’

Belmonte explained that Rasuman went to see him and asked for security from local law enforcement agencies as news of problems in his investment operations — some having branded the operations as a scam — went around the city.

“I was the one who alerted the authorities about him and when he apparently found out what I did, he came to my house like anyone would come to my house because it’s also my office,” Belmonte said.

“He assured me that he had stopped his double-your-money venture,’’ Belmonte shared.

Belmonte further added that the reason there were fewer victims in Iligan lured by the Rasuman and Aman Futures because “people in this city are educated.’’

Cruz, on the hand, explained it was impossible for him to be involved in the scam as he was even the first to create a task force to tell the public not to invest in the two groups, the Aman Futures and the Rasuman group. “I created a task force and done radio broadcasts to warn the public not to invest in these companies,’’ Cruz said.

Cruz said he formed the task force after he learned in a trip to Cagayan de Oro that a group of scam victims and their relatives had blocked the gate of a subdivision in the city to force Rasuman to face them.

“I presided over a task force meeting to ensure that peace and order in the city prevails in the aftermath of the scam,” Cruz said.

NBI said Rasuman scammed more than the P12 billion that Aman Futures took in its own pyramid scam, but Rasuman’s victims numbered less.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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