Chavit Singson and Andal Ampatuan, Sr. in happier days
The Mexican Standoff between the administration and the Ampatuan clan seems to be over. It’s ever-ginger approach to coming to grips with the outpouring of domestic and international indignation put the government in an untenable situation. Something had to be done. The Ampatuans were masterfully playing legal ping-pong with the government, securing a Writ of Amparo from the Supreme Court (seeking protection from the military!); foreign forensics experts investigating the Ampatuan Massacre at one point returned to Manila after being intimidated by unidentified men (the investigators said that men have been tailing them from their hotel to the crime site; they have also been making “inquiries” about the investigators); the discovery of an arms cache in Ampatuan property led to all sorts of speculation that items embarassing or incriminating to high officials had been discovered, too, and might leak out.
At 7:46 PM last night, word began to circulate that martial law would be imposed in Maguindanao province, that Lt. Gen. Ferrer would be put in charge, and a mass arrest of the Ampatuans conducted. There’d been talk of this possibility for a few days: government had prepared the martial law issuance and related documents a week ago, but in the middle of the week, the Armed Forces of the Philippines supposedly expressed reluctance while the President herself was said to be equivocating on the move. But by last night, it seems that the decision had been made to take the plunge; within a couple of hours, ABS-CBNNews.com decided to break the story.
The Palace issued the usual ritual denials (they served a useful purpose, Senator Aquino said he held back from issuing a statement last night because of the Palace’s denial) . But at 7:30 AM today, Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita appeared on TV to read Proclamation 1959. Martial law in Maguindanao except for some places, and the suspension of the Writ of Habeas Corpus for the duration.
Government went on the offensive and held press conferences during which the military and police made soothing noises while Justice Secretary Agnes Devanadera laid out the government’s case to justify martial law in most of Maguindanao. She said government had basically ceased to exist in Maguindanao, nothing was getting done, no services delivered -not even the issuance of death certificates, she claimed. The courts, she said, weren’t functioning. It was tantamount to a rebellion, the effect being that allegiance had been withdrawn from the state.
Essentially, she laid presented an argument for a new species of rebellion (the law, the Revised Penal Code, which predates the present Constitution, defines rebellion as an overt act): a “looming and in fact, practically an overthrow of government,” perhaps hemmed in by the military point of view if one accepts scuttlebutt the military was ambivalent about martial law: Gen. Guadiencio Pangilinan, who appeared in the press conference with Devanadera, said the situation in the province was that the Ampatuans had the “capability to undertake it, it was imminent,” but that the province was “not on the verge of rebellion.” Press Secretary Cerge Remonde helpfully pointed out that the President acted to “quell imminent rebellion.”
Devanadera said the state of emergency proclaimed by the President remains in place in Cotabato City and Sultan Kudarat province, while martial law and the suspension of the Writ is in place in Maguindanao (except for MILF camps, of which three out of seven are located in the province). Military and police officials said they’re hunting down a hundred or so suspects, though Devanadera was careful to distinguish that martial law was not imposed in order to facilitate the prosecution of massacre-related cases, but on the basis of a collapse in government functions. According to her, those suspected of complicity in the massacre would continue to be accorded all their constitutional rights, while the suspension of the Writ still requires anyone arrested and charged with rebellion to be charged within three days.
Reporters badgered her on her apparent disinclination to weigh in over the use of “invited for questioning” with reference to the Ampatuans taken into government custody. She said she couldn’t comment because she wasn’t familiar with actual circumstances on the ground. This may be legal circumspection on her part: if, for example, the Supreme Court declares the proclamation of martial law illegal, then the Ampatuans’ lawyers might claim arrests undertaken and evidence seized as fruits of the poisoned tree.
Whatever the case, two contrasting images presented themselves. First was the military showing off a warehouse full of arms said to belong to the Ampatuans, and the other, contrasting picture, was of Andal Ampatuan Sr. being carted off to a hospital. In the meantime, his son, current ARMM Governor Zaldy Ampatuan is in General Santos City, which isn’t covered either by the state of emergency or martial law.
My feeling is public opinion is on the side of the President, applauding martial law as a kind of cutting of the Gordian knot. Her action is perceived by the public as a means to reimpose national authority on the province, and as decisive blow against the impunity of the Ampatuans. And yet: the Ampatuans seem capable, still, of resisting by means of the law. What’s been accomplished has been to neutralize their military power (though even here, there might be some hyperbole on the part of officialdom: while ARMM sources had indicated a battalion-strength private army for the Ampatuans, now government is saying the private army they’re in the process of neutralizing was two battalion-strong).
The government having made its case, the ball is now in two courts: that of Congress, and almost certainly, in the Supreme Court. Last night the Speaker of the House began by saying he didn’t think martial law was necessary, and that he personally felt that the existing state of emergency should suffice. By this morning, he’d changed his tune, saying there was a broad consensus among legislators that martial law was the right thing to do.
He then shifted from saying he felt it would be difficult, if not impossible, to muster a quorum for Congress, to proposing the novel theory that Congress only had to convene to consider the President’s martial law proclamation if it was inclined to reject it. Otherwise, Congress didn’t have to meet. He then amended his views to suggest the House and Senate should hold caucuses on Monday and that it might be possible to hold a Joint Session of Congress on Tuesday to consider the President’s message justifying her proclamation.
Various legal opinions have been put forward pointing out that Congress ought to have convened by 9 PM Saturday or 7:30 AM Sunday at the latest, as the Constitution requires Congress to convene to consider any martial law proclamation within a day (do you reckon it from the actual time it was signed, or the time it was announced?) while some legislators opined that the 24 hour summons only applies of Congress isn’t in session -which doesn’t make sense to me; if the Constitution imposes an emergency requirement when not in session, shouldn’t Congress actually convene sooner if not on recess? But the long and short of it is, the Constitution assumes legislators would act post haste, but there’s nothing to stop Congress from dragging its feet.
Then again, no one doubts that in the specific instance in the Constitution, when both chambers vote together and not separately, that the administration will muster the numbers to swamp the Senate and enthusiastically endorse the President’s proclamation if necessary.
The Palace is eyeing public opinion keenly. After the Secretary of Justice held her press conference, it was announced the Secretary of the Interior would hold another press conference later that afternoon (Sec. Puno of the DILG was quoted throughout the day as having expressed a negative opinion about martial law); it was postponed to Sunday. Either to give time for the Palace to reel him in, or (which seems more likely to me) to take stock of public opinion and see what sort of spin is required.
As far as I’m concerned, what Congress actually does -whether it perfunctorily approves, or in an orgy of bootlicking endorses and even extends, the President’s martial law proclamation- matters less than what the President has accomplished. She broke the last post-Edsa taboo in our politics. This was a line presidents were expected not to cross with impunity. It was a line, of course, the President had tried to cross before, in 2006, when she tried to impose martial law under the rubric of a state of emergency, ignoring Cory Aquino’s precedent of requesting emergency powers from Congress to specify her authority to meet an emergency. Infighting within the cabinet led to the President’s efforts being frustrated, with one side claiming she could exercise vast powers, another faction saying she couldn’t.
This time, she has declared martial law without actually exercising anything publicly perceptible as out of the ordinary, legally; but the point has been made, the line crossed with bands blaring. Along the way she is attempting to redefine established understandings of what constitutes rebellion, which, together with invasion, remain the grounds for such a proclamation.
It will still be tricky: the armed forces itself telegraphed its position by publicly stating it believed martial law anywhere else in the country is unnecessary. Legal opposition, while slow and cumbersome, has been aroused; political opposition may be on the defensive for now, but if, beyond parading arms caches and so forth which inevitably lead back to questions of how the Ampatuans amassed such an arsenal under the watch of the present dispensation, the public begins to see that the President hasn’t really moved the massacre case forward, and worse, if tensions erupt elsewhere in the country, then public opinion may shift away from the administration.
There’s a couple of articles providing an insight into what has changed and what hasn’t, in terms of warlords, political leaders, and the Ampatuans.Some background reading I’d recommend includes Alex Tizon’s Why Andal Ampatuan Jr. Thought He Could Get Away With It in PCIJ, and Random Salt’s “A mere aberration.”
Veteran journalist Patricio Diaz recounted, in 2002,
When I left Cotabato City in mid-1996, practically all town mayors of Maguindanao had residential houses, if not mansions, in Cotabato City.
Many of them only reported for work in their municipalities, but did not reside there.
Rivals and allies all live in Cotabato City. These mayors or politicians are datus. Besides the legally authorized security from the police or military, they have platoons of alalay (loyal followers) for security escorts. They create a very incendiary situation.
Datus observe strictly and sensitively protocol according to their ranks. Government elected officials, no matter how high in position, defer to the datus if they (officials) happen to be commoner or lower in rank.
This factor seriously into the maintenance of peace and order…
Does it mean that these rival and feuding politicians in the city cannot be put in their proper senses?
They can if Mayor Sema will do a Juliano — Mayor Teodoro V. Juliano. He did not appeal. He challenged. Not just threatened.
When he took over from Mayor Datu Mando Sinsuat in 1967, he gave to the police the armored car which he had built in his machine shop.
With the police under his direct control, he was able to check politicians and their escorts. Under the succeeding mayors – Mayor Juan J. Ty and Mayor Ludovico D. Badoy, “battles” among politicians’ security escorts were unknown…
Feuds among scions of Maguindanao datus are not new. In the 1950s, for instance, the Sinsuats could not cross Quirino Bridge in the north.
The Baraguirs and Matalams could not cross Tamontaka Bridge in the south. The Piangs who came down the city via Rio Grande could not cross Tamontaka Bridge.
There were occasional “battles” in the city when, by chance, scions of rival clans met in restaurants or night spots. A scion of a Piang was shot right in his law class in Notre Dame College (now university) sometime in 1957 by a loyal follower of the Sinsuats.
Fortunately, with the passage of time, scions of Maguindanao datus from both across the Quirino Bridge and Tamontaka Bridge had learned to accept each other as friends, equals, associates.
I think that was the work of education.
However, that incident between the grandson of Gov. Andal Ampatuan and the son of former Mayor Datu Ibrahim “Toto” Paglas in a night spot in Davao City showed that bad blood is really difficult to banish.
Hot heads and pride among the young can trigger trouble.
That used to happen in Cotabato City in the 1950s and early 1960s.
Among the datus, security escorts are in keeping with their social class.
The power of the traditional datus was challenged by “commoners” in the 1970s, those unable to adapt lost their power; others flourished, or became allies and subordinates of new warlords. See also the Inquirer editorials Overlords and Political entrepreneurs, which in turn pointed to The Ruthless Political Entrepreneurs of Muslim Mindanao by Francisco Lara Jr.
There’s been a great deal of finger-pointing concerning who nurtured the monster known as Andal Ampatuan, Sr. In an interview was aired last Tuesday on “Strictly Politics,” Fr. Eliseo Mercado (see his blog entries, Part 1 and Part 2 on the Ampatuan Massacre), well-known peace advocate dispelled earlier reports that Cory Aquino “created the ‘monster’,” by appointing Andal Ampatuan Sr. as OIC of Maganoy Maguindanao in 1986. On the contrary, Mercado pointed out that Aquino removed Andal Ampatuan Sr (a Marcos appointee), and replaced him with Datu Bodhi Ampatuan, a non-political member of the Ampatuan clan. The good fortune of Ampatuan Sr. took place after the term of Aquino. Here’s his description of what happened, Ampatuan’s rise to paramount warlord status:
The rise of a paramount ‘warlord’ does not come often.
Usually, the rise and fall of a paramount warlord depended on the whims and caprices of the real paramount LORD that resides along the Pasig River.
The Ampatuan clan was able to venture outside their traditional ‘domain’ (Maganoy) with the ‘blessing’ of the paramount LORD in Malacañang.
Datu Andal Ampatuan, Sr. was already the ‘ruler’ of Maganoy during the time of Ferdinand Marcos.
President Cory Aquino in 1986 removed him from office and deprived him of access to the security forces of the state after EDSA 1.
But in the first election under the 1987 Constitution, Datu Andal Sr. became the undisputed Mayor of Maganoy.
His rival, Datu Surab Abutazil, also of the Ampatuan clan, was assassinated in broad daylight in a cafeteria right in the market place of Maganoy.
Mayor Andal was charged for the murder of Datu Surab but later the case was dismissed for lack of witnesses.
The turning point for the Ampatuan clan happened during the 2001 local elections.
With the full support of the PNP and the AFP, Datu Andal had beaten the incumbent Maguindanao Governor and the 1st ARMM Governor, Zacaria Candao.
The decision to shift support to Datu Andal was the perception that Gov. Candao was MILF or sympathetic to the MILF.
Datu Andal became the ‘avid’ supporter of President Gloria in her decision to run for the Presidency in 2004.
He “delivered” the whole province to Gloria against the more popular Fernando Poe, Jr.
This electoral ‘feat’ made Datu Andal the new ‘anointed’ one not only for the province but also for the entire ARMM.
It was no accident in 2005, when the Ampatuan made a run for the head ‘honcho’ of the ARMM.
It was an invitation to the government and President Gloria to shift to a more ‘manageable and predictable overseer’ over the ARMM after almost nine years of disarray under the rule of the MNLF (more than five years under Nur Misuari and 3 years under Parouk Hussin).
With the ARMM falling into the hands of the Ampatuan clan and under the total patronage of MalacaÃ±ang, the hold of the clan over the ARMM and Maguindanao has become undisputed.
It is a steady and phenomenal rise to almost absolute power.
The last known paramount Lord of the Cotabato Empire province was Datu Udtog Matalam in the 50’s and early 60’s.
In Christiane Amanpour’s blog, she reproduced Maria Ressa’s story chronicling the rise of Ampatuan Sr.:
The Ampatuan family’s rise to power began in the Marcos era, when it closely allied with the military to fight the Moro National Liberation Front or MNLF. When the MNLF signed a peace agreement with the government in 1996, the enemy changed to the MILF, now the largest Muslim insurgency in the country.
In the late 1990’s, Andal Ampatuan, Sr., avowedly anti-MILF, was handpicked by the military to run as governor against a rival who was supportive of the MILF. Ampatuan won in 2001 in an election that was largely seen to have been manipulated by the military. He was described as a “military-sponsored warlord.”
He gained even greater power after he helped Gloria Macapagal- Arroyo win the 2004 presidential elections. She won by such a large margin in his areas of influence, including all the votes in three Maguindanao towns, that her victory became suspicious.
In exchange, the Ampatuan family asked for money, guns and power. In July 2006, President Arroyo overturned a clause in the Philippine Constitution that banned private armies. She issued Executive Order 546 giving local officials and the Philippine National Police or PNP the power to create “force multipliers” in the fight against the MILF. In reality, the Ampatuans converted their private armies to the legal and more elegant euphemism – CVO’s or civilian volunteer organizations.
The military has its own term for members of this private army: Civilian Armed Force Geographical Units or cafgus. These are men who are paid by the local government and trained by the military – all deployed under the command of Ampatuan. Unofficial estimates of the men under Ampatuan’s command reach 800, including cvo’s and cafgus.
Reports of violence, abuses of power, and murder increased through the years, but little was done. People were too afraid to speak. Shortly before the 2001 elections, one of his political rivals was murdered inside a restaurant. Ampatuan was the primary suspect and was even charged, but nothing happened. In another instance, police said the nephew of a rival was killed with a chainsaw. The body was never found. Another rival was burned alive. In every instance, suspicion fell on Ampatuan, who created and exploited a culture of impunity.
This is the story of how the government and its security forces used the Ampatuans and their private armies to fight a proxy war against the MILF, and how it all horrendously backfired.
The question still remains if toppling the Ampatuans will enable the President and her coalition to wash their hands of the whole gruesome mess.
Benigno Aquino III
Corazon C. Aquino
Ferdinand E. Marcos
House of Representatives
Philippine National Police