The Ponzi scheme mania

By: Malou Guanzon Apalisok June 30,2019 - 07:03 AM

In a previous column, I wrote about the biggest investment scams in the country based on a 2015 compilation made by ANC News Channel. I am trying to update the list because of recent developments that show investment schemes are on the rise.  

The biggest investment scam appears to be the Kapa Community International Ministry, which is now the subject of a criminal complaint filed by the Securities and Exchange Commission before the Department of Justice.  Named respondents in the case filed last June 18, 2019 are president and founder Joel Apolinario and corporate secretary Reyna Apolinario, among others, for perpetrating an investment scam in violation of the SEC Regulation Code.  

Before Kapa came along, the biggest scam that we know is Aman Futures, a privately held company in Malaysia supposedly with branches in the Philippines led by Malaysian national Manuel Amalilio.  He lured the people of Pagadian and other parts of Mindanao to part with their hard-earned money through a Ponzi-style investment scheme that promised huge returns.  

As we know, the evil empire collapsed after thousands tried to collect their earnings. But since there were no new members to hold up the pyramid, it broke down.  The conman fled to Sabah where he reportedly enjoys political protection.  I’m not sure if the government is moving to have him extradited to answer PH laws but it really is a long shot.  Known losses are pegged at P2 billion.

One would think that with hundreds of thousands of victims learning life’s hardest lessons that show them falling for the dumbest of investments moves, people should be staying away from get-rich schemes.  

But such is not the case.  In fact, the Securities and Exchange Commission is practically buried by many cases involving Ponzi-type schemes that have proliferated in many parts of the country.  Despite all the warnings and red flags being raised by regulators, pyramiding scams and Ponzi-type investment schemes are having a field day and because it’s so prevalent especially in Mindanao, people are beginning to think it’s legal or, at the very least, they think it should be legalized. 

Meanwhile, SEC is also besieged by reports that many people have fallen victim to swindling syndicates that operate online.  It’s basically the same con game but uses the neighborhood savings cum investment called paluwagan. According to media reports, the swindle is being perpetrated through 30 social media accounts.  Some even hire the services of an announcer to wage the scam via livestream.    

What is disturbing is that some investment scams are getting special protection from police officials who, instead of serving and protecting the people are themselves involved in criminal activities.  

A case in point are the cases of senior police officials who were implicated in the Police Paluwagan Movement from its base in General Santos City.  The PPM started in November 2018 and according to a report published by BusinessWorld, Senior Supt. (now Police Colonel) Manuel M. Lukban, Jr., Senior Supt. Raul S. Supiter, and Supt. (Police Lieutenant Colonel) Henry P. Binas had a hand in the investment scam that robbed people of some P2 billion.

Binas is a familiar name to local media because he used to head the Talisay City Police Office in 2011.  He was axed from the unit after a lady reporter accused him of sexual harassment.  Next thing we heard, he got assigned in Region 12 and as the Tagalogs are wont to say, wala talagang magawang maganda (not able to do any good).

The PPM became a big hit among policemen in Region 12 because it promised investors of 60 percent returns within 15 days.  That kind of interest rate should be a huge red flag flying but easy money attracted not just cops, but also prosecutors, judges and civilians.  

After failing to deliver on the promised huge returns, the disgruntled investors went to police precincts looking for the PPM mastermind who went into hiding but eventually showed up to disclose on radio that she had nobody to blame but certain police officials who wanted to get their percentage share even if they did not invest.  In other words, they were extorting money from the alleged pyramiding scammer, a woman named Shiela Grace Agustin.  

The illegal enterprise eventually caught the ire of Department of Interior and Local Government Secretary Eduardo M. Año who in March this year directed the Philippine National Police (PNP) to relieve the three high-ranking police officers from Region 12. 

I have yet to hear updates whether administrative and criminal  cases have been filed against these three police officials because it is not enough that they be relieved from their posts.  They should be prosecuted and be made to answer for collaborating with an illegal activity that has dealt serious damage to the people of south central Mindanao.  

What we hear are just stern warnings from PNP echelon who caution policemen against joining pyramiding investment schemes or they will be axed from the service.  But what about the case of the three officials formerly based in Region 12?  Is the PNP turning a blind eye on this deplorable situation?

No wonder people think the police agency is also into these shenanigans.

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