Last Wednesday, the P12-billion scam perpetrated by Aman Futures Phils. Inc. on at least 15,000 people in the Visayas and Mindanao was front-page news at the Inquirer.
By way of background, Aman is a corporation organized to buy, sell, distribute and market “palm oil, gold, coconut oil, manganese, nickel, ore and agricultural products.”
The company solicited investments from the public upon the promise of paying interest ranging from 15 percent to 40 percent after 20 or 30 days depending on the amount invested. The carrot was made more enticing through the issuance of postdated checks covering the principal and interest payable.
Like all Ponzi (or pyramiding) schemes, the promised interest rates can be sustained only by a continuous inflow of investments. The latest investments are used to pay for whatever interest and return of principal that may have been promised the earlier investors.
When the pool of gullible investors dries up, or the investors start demanding the return of their principal ahead of their maturity, the whole scheme collapses.
The reported mastermind of the latest financial caper to hit the country, Manuel Amalillo, a Filipino of Malaysian descent, is, as to be expected, nowhere to be found. The company’s solicitors or agents are left to suffer the wrath of irate investors.
This scam was the subject of my column last October 19. At that time, the large-scale swindle did not attract public attention because interesting political issues dominated the news then.
So I was surprised when, on the day my article came out, I received several e-mails from Inquirer readers based in the Visayas and Mindanao giving information about Aman’s operation in their areas and how some of their local government officials encouraged them to put their money in it.
A reader wrote that, after bragging about the profits they earlier earned from their investments, the officials offered (and succeeded) to act as agent or “consolidator” to expedite Aman’s acceptance of their investments.
The solicitation ploy worked for the officials’ relatives and close political associates because that spared them the hassle of lining up early in the morning or jostling with other people to get their money into Aman.
When the investment scam unraveled, the local officials were hard-pressed explaining the loss of the investments they solicited and, unless they are able to placate their irate constituents, they could find themselves in serious trouble in the May 2013 elections.
The Aman financial scam is expected to become a potent political issue against the officials who actively participated in its solicitation or are perceived to be closely linked to the people behind it.
Another reader wrote about a neighbor whose 18-year-old daughter works in Metro Manila as household help to raise tuition money for her interrupted computer technology studies.
Rather than put her earnings in a bank as she originally planned, she sent them all to the province to invest, upon her mother’s advice, in Aman. When she learned that her money had gone down the drain, she accused her mother of lying to and taking advantage of her. It may take some time before the daughter’s trust in her mother is restored.
According to an Ozamis City resident, the money loss drew violent reactions from some aggrieved Muslim investors. They took over a hotel owned by a consolidator who is a doctor and member of a well-respected family in the community.
He reportedly encouraged, urged and cajoled his fellow doctors, professionals and other people to invest in Aman. As consolidator, he is reputed to have earned millions of pesos in fees from his solicitations, hence, the anger vented on him.
The reader did not say how the hotel takeover ended or how he and his family are coping with the change in the community’s attitude toward them.
In Pagadian City, where no less than its mayor has been accused of complicity in the Aman scam, a reader said that… “if you were to walk the streets of Pagadian today, you will find a lot of semi-catatonic individuals.
“What hit them was worse than any Ondoy or Sendong. With these natural disasters you could at least rebuild. But when you have absolutely nothing left, what then?
“So now because of the greed of this Aman and his cohorts, the economies of small cities in Mindanao will greatly suffer. Already it has claimed one life by suicide.”
No doubt, if we go by past experience, there will be calls for a congressional investigation of the Aman incident, in theory, in aid of legislation, but in reality, in aid of re-election considering that the midyear election is just six months away.
In the areas where many of the scam victims live, there will be no stopping the finger pointing among the politicians until May 2013. This issue will be squeezed to the fullest for its election value.
As usual, in typical knee-jerk reaction, the Department of Justice has promised to file charges against the people responsible for this caper that has brought misery to thousands of gullible Filipinos.
But knowing the DOJ’s track record in prosecuting criminals, that vow might as well have been written in water.
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