Monday, December 07, 2009

Ending a reign of terror

This is my column today.

Is it an overreaction, a brazen display of power, or—finally—a courageous albeit belated display of political will to, once and for all, get to the bottom of the Maguindanao massacre?

The province of Maguindanao was placed under martial law last Saturday by virtue of Proclamation 1959 signed by the President of the Republic Friday evening.

The proclamation paved the way for the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus in the province and led to the arrests without warrants of the other members of the Ampatuan family, widely believed to be behind the massacre of 57 people, including 30 journalists in Ampatuan town last Nov. 23.

Put under detention over the weekend was Maguindanao Gov. Datu Andal Ampatuan Sr. along with six other political leaders and government officials related to the Ampatuans. The arrests presumably happened because of the proclamation.

Yet all of a sudden, discussions related to the Maguindanao carnage assumed a different tone and texture.

Just a few days ago, most everyone was hyperventilating about the need to do something—anything—to bring the Ampatuans to the bar of justice. There was wide-scale condemnation of the massacre and loud angry demands for the government to stop dragging its feet. Many people I know even demanded that the Ampatuans be immediately arrested despite the lack of solid evidence.

And now, the same people are crying “overkill” and are now expressing the need to protect and safeguard the human rights of everyone—witnesses and suspects alike. Oh please don’t get me wrong. I also believe that criminals have rights, which is why I have profound respect for people like lawyer Sigfrid Fortun who is valiantly defending the Ampatuans. But I can’t help but note the sudden change in advocacy among many people just because the opportunity to demonize Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has presented itself.

Of course people are still trying to be politically correct by prefacing their condemnation of the declaration of martial law by saying that they mean no disrespect to the victims of the massacre and that they still want the perpetrators punished for the horrible slaughter.

How justice is going to be served despite the Ampatuans’ reign of power and terror in Maguindanao remains unclear. A whole cache of guns and ammunitions were unearthed in the middle of a village and no one—not a single resident of the village—saw, heard, or smelled anything that could give indications as to how the cache got to be buried in the community. Another cache of high-powered firearms, including mortars, automatic weapons and anti-tank weapons, thousands of rounds of ammunition, and explosives were also discovered in a lot close to one of the Ampatuan residences. Does anyone still need proof that the resources and the motivation for more violence to escalate are present in Maguindanao?

The conspiracy theory being peddled out there is that the declaration of martial law is some kind of a test case—a prelude to a possible similar declaration in the event that the opposition wins, or Gloria Macapagal Arroyo loses her bid for representative, in the 2010 elections. Okay. I know that far more implausible things have happened in this country. I also know that Arroyo has not exactly been the epitome of truthfulness and sincerity. But really, one has to be really paranoid to believe such a scenario will come to pass.

Am I in favor of the declaration of martial law in Maguindanao? If there is sufficient basis for it and if it will normalize the situation in the province, succeed in dismantling private armies, and bring justice to the 57 victims of the November 23 massacre, then yes. However, I live and work in Manila and have no first hand knowledge of the situation in Maguindanao so I don’t feel competent to make a categorical opinion, whether for or against the move. Unlike others, I will not presume to be an expert on the Maguindanao situation.

But I do have friends who live in Maguindanao and most of them are relieved that the Ampatuan warlords are finally in detention. Of course they are fearful that the supporters of the Ampatuans would retaliate—they tell me that despite the general revulsion that the rest of the country feels for the Ampatuans, the clan does have solid following in the province—which is why placing the province temporarily under martial law is something that they welcome. It’s difficult to argue with personal experience so I take their word at face value.

It is obvious that the Nov. 23 carnage was carried out by many people—probably a hundred or so. Arresting these many people would be almost impossible without special powers. Heck, the government and the military could not even arrest Datu Unsay Mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr., despite eyewitness accounts linking him to the carnage—he voluntarily turned himself in for questioning.

A political group mocked the government by asking “Is the government so weak that it cannot enforce the arrest of those implicated without it [martial law]?” The answer to that question is obvious; it’s almost a rhetorical question. Nevertheless, I don’t think it is such a grievous mistake to admit vulnerability when things are beyond one’s capacity to control, thereby requiring special powers.

The brazenness of the Nov. 23 carnage in itself is proof of just how powerful the perpetrators are, or the extent to which they would go to assert their power.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

who are you endorsing for 2010?

Bong C. Austero said...

haven't really decided. will make an appeal in this blog for the candidates I will be endorsing once i have made a decision.

thanks

Anonymous said...

Am not a fan of GMA but am seriously considering Gibo Teodoro on the basis of his conduct, accomplishments, and his demeanor and displayed competence and intelligence in the televised debates and other fora (eg in AIM shown by ANC). Several of my colleagues in UPLB feel the same way. The others? Meh.

MommyJo

Vivien said...

I was one of those who felt that the arrest of the Ampatuans was taking too long. Then, after martial law was declared, I am one of those who think that the declaration was an overkill. I still feel the same. My fear is that the justification for martial law, as defined in the Constitution, has been loosened. Making it easier, not just for GMA but also for future presidents, to declare martial law. By calling on the military and by suspending the writ of habes corpus, the same results might have been achieved. In any case, I feel for the Maguindanao people who, it seems, lived in fear of the warlord for the longest time. They are probably still experiencing the same fear, but this time from the military.