The President and Zaldy Ampatuan in happier days, courtesy of Newsday
Back on September 7, 2009 in my column A necessary provocation, I pointed out the integral role warlords play in the ruling coalition. Just a week ago, as a photo in Uniffors shows, the Ampatuans were lionized by the ruling coalition. Now comes a mass murder in Maguindanao that is making people wonder if the Palace can stonewall or damage-control things enough not to endanger its political calculations for 2010 and beyond. Mindanews, which should be everyone’s first stop when it comes to anything Mindanao-related, reports it as Ampatuan massacre: 46 bodies recovered:
But aside from the members of the Mangudadatu family, the two lawyers and the estimated 30 journalists who joined their convoy, Dangane said they recovered the remains of several employees of the National Economic and Development Authority in Region 12, city government of Tacurong in Sultan Kudarat and several other civilians.
“They happened to be there (at the highway) and the suspects also held and later killed them,” the police official said…
About a hundred armed men reportedly held and later killed the members of the Mangudadatu family and the two women lawyers and journalists who accompanied the Mangudadatus on the way to the Commission on Elections provincial office in Shariff Aguak, Maguindanao to file the certificate of candidacy for Maguindanao governor of Buluan Vice Mayor Ismael Mangudadatu.
The suspects, who were tagged as hired guns of the Ampatuan family, initially stopped the convoy in Barangay Saniag at around 9:00 am and brought them at gunpoint to the vicinity of barangays Salman and Malating, which is about 10 kilometers from the national highway.
A back hoe allegedly owned by the provincial government of Maguindanao was reportedly used in burying some of the victims.
Dangane said they found the abandoned heavy equipment Tuesday morning positioned near the scattered remains of some of the victims and a cliff that appeared to be freshly filled with soil at the vicinity of Sitio Masalay, Barangay Salman in Ampatuan town.
One of the earliest commentaries on the massacre was penned by Inday Espina-Varona, Who will protect us from our protectors? It is a powerful indictment:
Today’s outrage brings this country closer to failed state status, and not just because of the number of persons killed. What is truly chilling about today’s tragedy is, that the alleged perpetrators were not just excitable henchmen of a local politician — in this case, Shariff Aguak Mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr.
The perpetrators, according to military reports, included not just the mayor and his men but also practically the entire local police force, para military forces and senior police officials.
One hundred men; that’s the equivalent of a company in the military. One hundred men; it’s no wonder that journalists who tried to follow up the carnage could not get a word out of anyone.
Anyone includes the top officials of the Philippine National Police (PNP) in Camp Crame.
Even as media was getting the names of those killed, even as the mayor of Mangadadatu told television reporters about how his wife called him to report being waylaid, even as Major General Alfredo Cayton of the 6th Infantry Division and Armed Forces of the Philippines spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Romeo Brawner Jr. confirmed that the 21 bodies had been recovered in Ampatuan town at around 4:30 p.m., the Public Information Office of the PNP continued to insist they knew nothing of the incident.
We have heard the usual statement of condemnation from Malacanang. They might as well condemn themselves.
The Ampatuan clan played a major role in the fraud that marred the 2004 elections; the fraud that allowed President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo another six years in power; the fraud that many of us chose to ignore because the alternative was another outsider-actor in Malacanang.
Maguindanao was where they tried a shutout of Fernando Poe Jr — a zero vote. Maguindanao, as the Hello Garci tapes told us, played a big, big role in ensuring Mrs. Arroyo’s continued hold in power.
Five years since that election, Ampatuan can strike at will, almost reassured of impunity because, after all, nobody ever got punished for the fraud of 2004. On the contrary, many elections officials and military officers implicated in the fraud reaped promotions and other rewards.
Now we are told the government is about to place the entire Maguindanao under military and police control. God help us all, because with protectors like these, we don’t need enemies.
Aside from ritual noises from the administration, the official response continues to be cautious and more focused on press releases than actual executive, military, or police action.
Today’s Inquirer editorial, Warlords, proposes viewing the mass murder in Maguindanao in the context of warlordism as a national and not just local affliction, and, as also pointed out in the Lede Blog of the New York Times, that warlords are a creation of the central government. Moros themselves insist warlordism is a fairly recent phenomenon, even entrenched dynasties in the 1950s and 1960s did not go around with enormous, gun-toting retinues. Warlordism, according to them, resulted from the rebellion in the 1970s and the government’s decision to buttress the armed forces with armed gangs under the command of allies.
The editorial also looks at the things that make the Ampatuans both similar to, and different from, other regional warlords. Warlord impunity is nothing new; but the scale and ferocity of the atrocity are unprecedented; and that can’t be divorced from the Ampatuans themselves enjoying unprecedented levels of power and influence in the ARMM. The editorial says they are unique in that they do not need whoever is the Palace occupant to anoint them as the supreme warlord; for the first time Manila needs them more than they need Manila.
The mass murder presents a problem for the administration, but also, an opportunity. The President proclaimed a state of emergency in Maguindanao and two cities, effectively putting a lid on things. The only problem is, no one seems to have any doubt who the mastermind of the massacre was. The only question, then, is whether the President and the two officials in the front line of handling this situation -Defense Secretary Norberto Gonzales, with a purview over the armed forces, and Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno, with authority over the national police- can maneuver things so as to pacify public opinion without making a mess of things, politically, for the administration and its political coalition.
More than whether the President can wriggle her way out of the tight embrace of the Ampatuans, there is something that makes me believe that this is a watershed event.
The old province of Cotobato over the years had been gerrymandered (split in 1966 to produce Cotobato and South Cotobato; in 1973 Cotobato divided in three: Maguindanao, Sultan Kudarat, and Cotobato) so that now, the Ampatuans have Maguindanao (itself divided in two in 2006 with the creation, later declared unconstitutional, of Shariff Kabunsuan) as their fiefdom and the Mangadadatus, Sultan Kudarat. The two clans, according to an Inquirer report, had a falling out over the Mangadadatus showing signs of preparing to challenge the dominance of the Ampatuans and then blocking the creation of a new municipality, Adam, from territory the Mangadadatus controlled.
The Mangadadatu clan going into the 2010 elections, seemed on the verge of forming an alliance with the Liberal Party, and worse (in the eyes of the Ampatuans) was mounting a challenge to their dominance. My understanding of the dynamics of politics in the region based on recent conversations with a resident of the region is that this was less significant in the short-term (the Ampatuans being so entrenched at present, they can stand on their own, with or without being anointed as the Palace choice) but potentially troublesome in the medium-term, specifically, in terms of the 2013 midterm elections.
To be affiliated with the Liberals, for example, in 2010, regardless of success vis-a-vis the Ampatuans, would put the Mangadadatu first in line to be the official candidate of the Aquino administration (if elected in 2010 of course) in 2013, the traditional path to dominance in the region. Both for itself and in terms of its usefulness to the ruling coalition in 2010, the Ampatuans showed every sign of being unwilling to tolerate any sort of challenge: the usefulness of the Ampatuans to national officials lies in their delivering votes lock, stock, and barrel to their national allies. The reputation of the clan -fierce, uncompromising, and ruthless, even for warlords- was such that Toto Mangadadatu himself, whom one can assume is no slouch when it comes to the realities of power, coming from an entrenched dynasty himself, knew prudence was the better part of valor in pursuing his challenge to the Ampatuans. Rather than file his candidacy papers himself, he sent his wife in a caravan to do so on his behalf.
Those unable -or unwilling- to fight fire with fire, who cannot or will not confront warlords and high officials on their own terms -because the powerful have all official and unofficial venues for the redress of grievances in their pockets or because, even if on par with a rival, one is unwilling to call that rival’s bluff- have relied on three antidotes to violence: womankind, the media, and the law.
All three manifested themselves in the decision to send that ill-fated caravan to the Comelec office. Mangadadatu sent female relatives: “Buluan Vice Mayor Ismael Mangudadatu’s wife Jenalyn, his sister-in-law and currently Mangudadatu town Vice Mayor Eden, their youngest sister Bai Farina and his cousins Zorayda Bernan, Raida Sapalon and Rowena Ante Mangudadatu,” as reported by Mindanews; and the lawyers sent to accompany them were women as well: Connie Brizuela and Cynthia Oquendo, who were also slain. Among the conventions that govern clan and political-related violence in the region, is that women, children, and the elderly are off-limits as targets.
And then, there was the media, including both national and regional reporters and correspondents: the glare of publicity and attention is generally considered enough to make even the most hardened of warlords take pause. And, indeed, the story was a big one: the colossal might of the Ampatuans actually facing a challenge.
All three -women being off-limits as targets of political or clan violence; media’s ability not only to cover stories, but to guarantee, in a sense, safety for those who bring their stories forward; and of the law, both in terms of the Mangadadatus pursuing a perfectly legal objective -filing candidacy papers- and of lawyers themselves as persons not to be targets, ceased to matter when the massacre began.
Consider the consequences, and the implications of defying these conventions: more so, if the Palace proves incapable of exacting anything more than a token stab at imposing law, order, and meting out justice in the case of the Ampatuans.
As it is, the President’s proclamation of a state of emergency has put a lid on things; while everyone not on the side of the Ampatuans must calculate the costs of defying their might. And that includes the national government and specifically, the ruling coalition.
Can the ruling coalition expel the Ampatuans from their ranks, as some members have proposed? And if so, how long will it take? What government lawyer will dare a proper investigation, what judge will dare try any potential cases? Can the Department of the Interior investigate and discipline the police, including policemen suspected of participating in the mass murder, and can an armed forces that by the Mangadadatus’ account, declined to secure the national highway on which the doomed caravan was traveling, uphold discipline when Mindanao has been used as place to exile units considered potential threats to the administration itself? Even if the politically-useful thing would be to unleash the armed forces on the Ampatuans if they resist -but so far, the government has been rather diffident in taking up on their expressed willingness to undergo questioning- what would that mean, in terms of the elections?
In many ways, it’s an impossible situation for the administration and all its flailing about shows it. As Mon Casiple points out,
The key elements to watch out for in the next days to come are: 1) if the AFP and the police disarm the armed Ampatuan clan and arrest, charge, and actually convict the perpetrators of the massacre; and 2) if more incidents happen that would portray a nationwide breakdown in peace and order.
It is no secret that the ascension of Mr. Norberto Gonzalez to the Defense portfolio, if only as an acting secretary, has caused apprehension because of his penchant for unconstitutional suggestions on how Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and her Malacanang gang can remain in power. The recent sporadic bombings in Metro Manila and this Maguindanao incident are not related, or are they?
Readers may be interested in the following background material.
The first concerns the Ampatuans themselves, from VistaPinas and a satellite photo of the Ampatuan mansion, to the 2008 report, Amid the fighting, the clan rules in Maguindanao. As for Zaldy Ampatuan who had visa problems entering Los Angeles last May, here’s an interview by Carol Arguillas as republished in the blog of Inday Espina-Varona (2007):
Q: I noticed along the way there has not been a single GO poster. So this is definitely a TU country?
A: Actually, Maguindanao province is an extension of the home province of Her Excellency, PGMA (President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo) which is Pampanga. Here in Maguindanao, considering that we have 20 mayors unopposed, these 20 mayors are allies of the administration, even those areas with opponents – Pagalungan and Talitay – the opponents are all allies of the administration.
Q: So this is definitely 12-0 here?
A; Basically ganon ang mangyari pero iba ang sabihin ng 12-0. Ang meaning kasi ng 12-0 sa amin dito is yung first 12 candidates na boto ay in favor of Team Unity yung Opposition makakuha from 13 down to the last.
Q: Can you say the same of the provinces of the ARMM
A: Actually in the other provinces of ARMM — in Basilan, considering that the opponents are influential – Gerry (Salapuddin) and the wife of Governor (Wahab) Akbar, the two parties are allies of the administration. In Tawi-tawi, Gov Sahali and opponent, Rashidin Matba, in Sulu, we have Gov Benjamin Loong. He is running for reelection against Sakur Tan and Nur Misuari. All of these candidates are supporting the Team Unity ticket of the administration. In Lanao del Sur, all the four candidates there for governor support Team Unity.
Q: So more or less, considering ou have one of the biggest regions in Minda
A: We have 1.3 million voters.
Q: Which can make or unmake the national candidates?
A: Palagay ko hindi gaano pero malaking factor dito sa Mindanao na makakuha ng majority of votes yung ticket ng Team Unity.
Q: But what about those criticisms that within the ARMM, because of the Hello Garci
A: Well we cannot prevent the opinion of the opposition. Considering we are a democratic country, they can campaign. What is important is we can rectify the negative impression that here in the ARMM, there is cheating.
Q: So this election will prove it?
A: Yes. Because the people will speak
Check out Placeholder on the senatorial results for Maguindanao in 2007. There’s Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4 and Part 5 of PCIJ’s “Why you should doubt the Maguindanao electoral results.” There’s this report by the late Alecks Pabico, The Maguindanao vote: Working ‘miracles’ again in ARMM? While Nicodemo Ferrer, of throwing the Bible at Ang Ladlad fame, makes a cameo in Bedol punishment seen as ‘insufficient‘.
On June 2, the President is heard asking Garcillano about the reported mismatch between the COCs and SOVs in Basilan and Lanao. She was assured, “Yung ginawa nilang magpataas sa inyo, maayos naman ang paggawa eh (The upward adjustment they did for you was all right).”
Four days later, she placed another call to seek assurance that the election forms in Maguindanao were consistent. “Hindi naman ho masyadong problema sa Maguindanao (Maguindanao isn’t much of a problem,” Garcillano said.
Official results would show Arroyo winning convincingly in Maguindanao. On May 28, 2004, however, losing Maguindanao gubernatorial candidate Guimid Matalam filed a petition before the Comelec seeking a declaration of failure of elections in 25 of the province’s 27 towns because of alleged electoral fraud there. According to Matalam, the fraud included having election returns prepared even before voting began at 7 a.m. on May 10, 2004 and ballot boxes never being brought to precincts.
At least 37,000 residents of Maguindanao are also being investigated by the local Comelec office on charges of double registration.
Annexes to Matalam’s latest petition explain how multiple voting occurred: Comelec had approved the clustering of precincts before May 10. But on election day, some of the clustered precincts were unclustered, resulting in extra precincts. The voters’ lists in the original and extra precincts contained a number of similar names. In addition, the extra precincts were issued a separate election return and certificate of canvass at the municipal level. After election day, the unclustered precincts were reclustered and the election returns combined and certified by election officers.
This apparently took place not only in Maguindanao, but also elsewhere in ARMM.
In Asia’s Changing the landscape of politics in the Philippines and From the Philippines: Impunity, Apathy, and Human Rights gives an overview of warlordism and political murder in the country as a whole.
Here are some readings on conflict among warring clans in Mindanao. A whole cluster of relevant articles are linked to in PCIJ’s Putting Maguindanao in context. Similar articles are linked to in the Lede Blog of the New York Times.
In Asia has several extremely informative articles: see From the Philippines: Definitive Reference on Clan Feuding in Mindanao Published ; while From Mindanao: Clan Feud Ceasefire presents a case story of a succesful end to a vendetta (see other examples in In the Philippines: Conflict in Mindanao). And there’s Ridomap, which provides an overview on political and clan violence and provides informative maps.
There is the effect political murders have on society and public opinion. A case that comes to mind is the murder of Moises Padilla: see the 1951 and 1954 Time Magazine stories. And also, the stories of the murders of Cesar Climaco in 1984 and Evelio Javier in 1986.
See also Filipino Voices.