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Beyond Maguindanao

Using the measures and regulations of one generation or one age to govern the world is like the case of a traveler in a boat who drops his sword in the middle of the river and notches the edge of the boat to mark the spot where the sword fell; then he goes back to the riverbank that evening to look for the sword below the notch on the boat. He is far from knowing what is what. – Huainanzi

In declaring martial law, the Constitution gives the President three kinds of discretion. The first is the discretion to determine what facts are relevant. The second is to determine whether, based on such facts, there is an “invasion or rebellion, and the public safety requires it”. The third is the discretion whether or not to actually declare martial law.

The first two kinds of discretion relate to whether the President can declare martial law, while the last relates to whether the President should declare martial law.

The Constitution provides for two checks to the exercise of these discretions.

The first is a legislative check wherein Congress, in joint session, can make a de novo or fresh or new review of all three discretions and make an independent determination not only whether the President can, but more importantly, whether the President should have declared martial law.

The second is a judicial check by the Supreme Court, but it can only review the first two discretions to determine whether the President can declare martial law.

With a little help from their friend

Last weekend, Gloria Arroyo placed the province of Maguindanao under martial law, “except for the identified areas of the MILF.” I’m confused. I thought the MILF were rebels and the Ampatuans were her friends.

The Ampatuans must be confused as well. They thought Gloria appreciated what they had done for her in previous elections. They thought she understood that the massacre happened because they wanted to ensure the cozy relationship between them would remain undisturbed by local rivalries. What happened?

Ellen Tordesillas of Vera Files blogged that North Cotobato Vice-Governor Manny Piñol said the Ampatuans were threatening to reveal what they knew about the 2004 elections.

“Ang sabi ng ibang mga miyembro ng Ampatuan clan, kung bibitawan sila ni Pangulong Arroyo, sasabihin din nila ang lahat,” Piñol said.

Tordesillas added she heard rumors that the Ampatuans were still in possession of the original documents from the 2004 elections. Blackmail material.

Ineptitude breeds impunity

“We can’t call him an animal because I have pets and they are tame. No, he is a monster. They are monsters.” – Vice Mayor Toto Mangudadatu on the killers.

“Just because they’re in this situation doesn’t mean we will already turn ourbacks on them. It doesn’t mean that they are no longer our friends, if ever they indeed committed the crime.” – Lorelei Fajardo, deputy presidential spokesperson, on the friendship between Mrs. Arroyo and the Ampatuans.

A backhoe bearing the markings of the provincial governor’s office stood idly by the freshly dug pits where at least 57 murder victims were dumped.

“A layer of bodies, then buried with soil, bodies again, and soil again…intended to make things difficult for us,” said the policeman in charge of recovering the cadavers.

This was not a spur-of-the-moment massacre. This was planned carnage, albeit with the sort of carelessness common among those accustomed to breaking laws with impunity.

According to the plan, the Mangundadato party was going to be stopped at a checkpoint, slaughtered, and buried along with their vehicles in two pre-excavated holes in the ground.

Did the monsters that planned the bloodbath not think someone might notice that a convoy on the way to the local Comelec office never reached its destination?

How were they going to explain the disappearance, were they going to say the convoy was abducted by aliens from outer space?

Mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr., principal suspect, came up with a story as fantastic as an alien abduction—MILF chieftain Umbra Kato did it!

The Maguindanao Massacre, the Bangsamoro Problem and the Peace Process

As a peace advocate who has considered Muslim Mindanao as my second region (after Bicol), I join so many others in their shock at and condemnation of what is now called the Maguindanao Massacre of 23 November 2009, likewise in expressing sympathies for the close relatives and friends of those who were killed, especially two fellow human rights lawyers, and calling for speedy justice and other necessary measures of redress and reform. There will never be enough words to describe this almost unbelievably depraved and inhuman incident.

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A Philippine Problem

The Maguindanao Massacre has been rightly explained as the tragic, though rather extreme, consequence of the Philippine central government’s or the Arroyo administration’s well-known deliberate cultivation and patronage of the Ampatuan political warlord clan and dynasty as its main instrument for political control in Maguindanao province, if not also the rest of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). Political control vis-à-vis political rivals or opponents of the Arroyo administration, and also vis-à-vis the main Moro rebel groups, notably the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) whose main provincial and ethnic base is Maguindanao. Thus, the characterization by some analysts of the Ampatuan clan as “political entrepreneurs” who have become “Malacanang’s monster (or Frankenstein).” This has been a symbiotic central-local axis of power, with mutual benefits also extending to wealth. The analysts have situated such local warlordism, apparently becoming more voracious and brazen in its arrogance of power, in the context of a conversely ever-weakening Philippine state.

The Ampatuan massacre and the failure of institutions

“The conspiracy may involve the national government.” So says Amina Rasul, a brave Muslim lady, who should have become a senator if only Filipinos were enthusiastic about electing ethnic minorities into national office.

But even if we set aside a conspiracy theory, this is fairly established, and I quote the editorial of the Philippine Daily Inquirer (27 November 2009):

“Consider that the Maguindanao ‘vote’ proved critical to President Arroyo’s presidential bid….

“In return what did the Ampatuans receive? Among many other favors, a crucial piece of paper, as the PCIJ [Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism] has written: In 2006, Executive Order 546 allowed the use of barangay tanods (village watchmen) as ‘force multipliers’ in peace and order and counter-insurgency operations. The order gave legal sanction to civilian volunteer organizations or CVOs—and effectively legalized private armies.”

In other words, Gloria Arroyo’s unqualified support for the warlords—to the extent of subordinating the police and the military to the Ampatuans and giving the Amapatuans a private army—set the stage for the massacre.

In addition, the Arroyo administration did not even conduct a formal investigation into reports about the Ampatuans’ involvement in piracy and smuggling, in the narcotics trade and in gun running.

In short, the Arroyo administration is also culpable.

A holistic perspective on the Mindanao conflict

1. Holistic – all aspects, not just socio-cultural and political but
also historical, economic, educational, religious, moral, ideological,
legal, psychological, interpersonal, and yes, military.

1.1 In the case of the Mindanao Conflict, “all of the above” and more.

1.2 TJS George: “The theories that run the gamut from religion to
misgovernment were relevant only only in so far as they were all pieces
of an enormously complex jigsaw. To pick any one of them as the
outstanding cause for the upheaval would be a hindrance to
understanding the total picture.”

1.3 Not only multi-dimensional but also evolving, with different dimensions coming to the fore at different times.