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Apr 22

The Long View: Silence means consent

The Long View
Silence means consent
By Manuel L. Quezon III
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 21:54:00 04/21/2010

JUSTICE SECRETARY ALBERTO AGRA MAY HAVE calculated that after an initial outburst, the public would eventually turn its attention to things other than his letting off the hook two high officials from the Ampatuan clan, Zaldy and Akmad. After all, when rebellion charges against members of the clan were dismissed (showing how flimsy and indeed, purely tactical, the rebellion-as-justification for martial law in Maguindanao was) hardly anyone expressed surprise”or even dismay. Perhaps the Palace interpreted this as a sign of waning public interest in the Ampatuan Massacre.

Timing is everything in politics, which is why the Palace likes to release bad news or engage in controversial acts on weekends, when most people aren’t really tuned into the news. It is why the Palace had to let ARMM Gov. Zaldy Ampatuan off the hook, now, when its various candidates need all the help they can get, and not, say, after May 10.

If, as the saying goes, there are no permanent friends, only permanent interests, then the reasons for doing the Ampatuans additional favors now rather than later suggest this is not about friendship but rather a convergence of interests. The same convergence that saw this administration raising the clan to nearly-unheard of levels of influence in the ARMM, to the heights of position in the national structure of the ruling coalition, and which has focused the administration less on giving justice to the victims of the Ampatuan Massacre and more on keeping the Ampatuans close enough to keep them useful in 2010.

The problem is that while the Ampatuans had to be let off the hook in time to be useful in the elections, they, too, helped make matters worse for themselves and for the President, though this shouldn’t come as a surprise, considering how what should have been a smooth alliance was nearly wrecked by the Ampatuan Massacre itself. Last Thursday, Andal Ampatuan Jr. brandished two ballers proclaiming his support for Nacionalista Party candidates Manuel Villar Jr. and Gilbert Remulla. He even bragged that he was confident of being absolved of the charges against him if Villar would win the presidency. Photographs of the grinning Ampatuan caused a national sensation, coming on the heels of a crescendo of endorsements for the various candidates, including Jose Ma. Sison’s formal anointing of Villar.

Two days ago, Ampatuan Jr. was, of course, singing a different tune, and brandishing different colors, in a typically brazen attempt to do damage control for the Nacionalistas as could be imagined.

Noemi Paron, widow of one of the massacre victims, bluntly pointed out what the whole stunt was about: reverse psychology. The stunt, she said, would not affect her support for Benigno Aquino III. He has, after all, been consistent in condemning the murders and expressing sympathy and support for the victims; his questions during the joint hearings of Congress on the proclamation of martial law helped demolish the government’s case. In contrast, Villar gave a bean counter’s response to mass murder and completely sidestepped the real issues: the extent to which the administration, military, and police were complicit in the massacre and the shoddy case they made for martial law. Instead he kept asking what the economic implications of the massacre might be. So much for the victims, so much for the horror of what happened.

There is no escaping the fact that the Ampatuans were able go berserk because they had been raised to the heights of power by means of impunity. Impunity conferred by the support of an administration dedicated to the forms of legality disguising the essential impunity of its methods and ambition. Fr. Eliseo Mercado has chronicled this in a series of articles that also debunked the latest tactic of the beleaguered Villar long ago: Ampatuan Sr. lost his position after Edsa, regaining it only after free elections were restored; yet even then only becoming Supreme Warlord under the present administration.

Obviously, then, the last thing either the administration or the Nacionalistas wanted was for the public to be reminded in whose corner the Ampatuans really stand. It turns them into a political issue just when they’re most needed. And it rubs salt in the wounds of the families of the victims who are now in the position of being surprised at the independence of state prosecutors, who are themselves caught in the dilemma of being ordered to participate in setting free the most politically useful Ampatuans.

It’s all very well to point out that the President took an oath to do justice to every man, but just what a sham that solemn oath has been reduced to can best be demonstrated by the manner in which our latest Secretary of Injustice and Raul Gonzalez who formerly held that title, supports Agra on this”defends his quashing of the murder charges against Zaldy Ampatuan.

Essentially, Agra’s defense is the tried-and-tested administration reasoning that: 1. It is presumed legal because officials like himself did it, and the President has not said anything to the contrary; 2. Indeed, since silence implies consent, it means as a creature of the President, she basically did the throwing out of the case; 3. If you don’t like it, you can take Agra and the President to court, all the way to the Supreme Court, if you please; and 4. If you don’t like it, why don’t you impeach the President? Otherwise everything has the presumption of legality and all opposition is merely political noise.

But the rewards outweigh the risks. A senior Frankenstein coalition official privately confirmed the findings of a poll commissioned for internal purposes by Ronaldo Puno, which has Aquino leading Villar by 18 points (41 to 23). It’s crunch time for the Palace and its candidates.

12 comments

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  1. Carl Cid Inting

    Whether it was Andal Ampatuan or Modi Ampatuan, the Ampatuans did manage to wriggle themselves into the good graces of the Cory Aquino administration. All local government officials were asked to resign upon the assumption of the “revolutionary” government in 1986. Modi Ampatuan was named to replace his relative, Andal as Mayor of Maganoy, although Newsbreak says differently:
    http://newsbreak.com.ph/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=7148&Itemid=88889070

    Nevertheless, during the 1988 elections, Andal Ampatuan did run under the administration, backed by Nene Pimentel and then DILG undersecretary Lito Lorenzana, who were PDP bigwigs, then merged with the Lakas.

    Anyhow, that is neither here nor there. Politicians, including Cory Aquino, will always act in their convenience. And, at that time, there was need to put up candidates willing to pit themselves against the Sinsuat clan, who were suspected of being Marcos loyalists. I just wonder, why the haste to distance Cory Aquino from the Ampatuans?

  2. Lovely Soul

    How could a Justice Secretary intervenes with the wheel of justice? There is judge assigned to the case, there is a Prosecutor, why in the world he was able to “let go” two major person of interest? Is there a Philippine Constitution? Does it give authority to the Justice Secretary to get accused people with pending litigation off at his whim and caprice?

    Filipino people must DEMAND justice. That Secretary must be made accountable for his blatant disregard for the Law of the land. Presidential candidates must speak up and get this clown accountable for the horrendous crime of massacre of 59 innocent civilians. Remember he is just a cabinet member, he is not even a Supreme Court Justice. Something stinks and it is surely wafting all the way to the International scene.

  3. mlq3

    Mercado has already pointed out the error in the Newsbreak article.

  4. Carl Cid Inting

    While Mercado isn’t the final arbiter on this matter, even assuming Mercado were correct, it was an Ampatuan who was appointed OIC Mayor of Maganoy in 1986. And the administration party stalwarts at that time, which included Nene Pimental, Peping Cojuangco and Tingting Cojuangco did support Andal Ampatuan in the 1988 elections. Zac Candao, who coordinated closely with the Cojuangcos, can attest to this. And Nene Pimentel hasn’t denied this.

  5. mlq3

    Why wouldn’t Mercado be the final arbiter? He has spoken categorically on this from a position of knowing the situation:

    Datu Andal Sr. was the henchman of Marcos in Maganoy in 1986.. He also was de facto mayor… acting since he was the vice mayor and already appointed as OIC.

    Cory removed him from Office!!! I was a witness to that!

    The Chief of Police, another Ampatuan yet non political and decent by the name of Datu Mod Ampatuan was appointed by Cory as OIC! I was the one who recommemnded for Datu Modi. He is an Ampatuan so he could maintain order and rule of law being the modest and clean chief of police in the place.

    But in the first election post Cory, Datu Andal, Sr was back in power… since he was and still is the undisputed power in Maganoy.

    I was the parish priest of Maganoy at the time and NAMFREL chair of the Province.

    The whole question was raised in terms of the assertions made: that he was given a leg up post-Edsa, and as far as the articles by Newsbreak et al., including Mercado, you can trace the trajectory of Andal Sr. including what gave him the crucial booster to make him a virtually unprecedented Supreme Warlord in the area. The article by Francisco Lara points out the unique achievement of Amaptuan Sr. in this regard.

  6. Brian Brotarlo

    The law ended when we did nothing after Hello Garci. What we have in its stead is crowd psychology being used to run this country.

  7. Lovely Soul

    It is disappointing that the discussion had completely veered away from the main topic and concern: 59 innocent people were slaughtered on Nov. 23, 2009 and the due process of law appears to have been railroaded by a justice secretary (cabinet staff) who does not have the Constitutional authority to do so. His action must be dealt with immediately. The more people remain silent to his hideous act, the more he will feel vindicated. People need to rise up while the “branding iron is hot.” So to speak. People must re-focus and demand justice for the victims whether journalists or civilians. God help you!

  8. Brian Brotarlo

    My point exactly lovely soul… dapat batas, hindi crowd psychology.

  9. SoP

    I’m still wondering why Samuel Ong was wiretapping Garci and GMA and why there isn’t much outcry about the illegality of this.

    Granted, without it, we would not have shown high-level corruption, which for any other president, should have resulted in resignation. But for a police agency to be wiretapping the president is just out there.

  10. SoP

    There are many more examples of this kind of bureaucratic and judicial stupidity that scares the shit out of me in case I become a victim of it. For example, Hubert Webb, despite material evidence and testimony from hundreds of people that he’s out of the country during the Visconde massacres, and the fact that the state’s sole witness is an illegitimate druggy, resulted in reclusion perpetua. The mob’s demand for blood may have been a factor in this.

    The mob works both ways.

    I just try to keep a quite life and hope I don’t get into any trouble with the Philippine government, bureaucracy, and judiciary.

  11. SoP

    And the bureaucratic bungles can work both ways too.

  12. Carl Cid Inting

    I agree about focusing on the massacre. I just wonder why the haste to distance Cory Aquino from the Ampatuans. It is impossible, just as it is impossible for Cory Aquino to distance herself from other warlords like the Singsons, the Dy’s and Josons.

    The real problem is that there has always been collusion between the central government and the warlords. It has been a marriage of convenience for many years. Marcos exacerbated it from postwar times, but no administration since Marcos has done anything about it. As a matter of fact, they all went along with it. The faces may change, allegiances may change, but the situation remains. And, to me, there lies the real tragedy. Because it has become a permanent fixture of our governments.

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