President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has just ordered a manhunt for the murderers of an estimated 45 people, including more than a dozen journalists.
From military reports, the perpetrators were led Shariff Aguak Mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr. and a senior police office, Sr. Inspector Dicay. Their target: the group led by Genalyn Mangadadatu, whose husband Ismail is mayor of Mangadadatu town. The military says they were waylaid, then murdered. No survivors.
The military estimates around a hundred men were involved in this unprecedented act of mayhem. It was no ordinary band of "bandits" behind the carnage. Not even one of the dreaded lost commands. With Ampatuan and Sr. Inspector Dicay were practically the entire security apparatus of Shariff Aguak and, presumably, Ampatuan town.
Mrs. Arroyo is actually ordering the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to chop down a hydra she herself created or, at the least, nurtured.
Warlordism is prevalent in Mindanao and not just among Muslim clans. The Ampatuans and the victim clan, the Mangadadatu are among the most powerful clains in Maguindanao.
An Inquirer.Net report (http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/breakingnews/nation/view/20091123-237943/Ampatuans-Mangudadatus-were-allies-for-decades) states:
"The Ampatuans and Mangudadatus have reigned in Maguindanao politics since 1986 when the revolutionary government of then President Corazon Aquino appointed officers-in-charge to local elective posts of mayors, municipal, provincial and village legislators, as well as governors and their deputies.
The patriarchs of both clans— Datu Andal Ampatuan Sr. and Datu Pua Mangudadatu —were appointed mayors of their respective municipalities, Maganoy (now Shariff Aguak) and Buluan, Maguindanao.
The two men never lost an election and their children have also entered politics and emerged winners, too. Many saw their political careers thrive in the positions they have held, among them, Governor Zaldy Uy Ampatuan of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, and incumbent Buluan town Vice-Mayor Esmael Toto Mangudadatu, who is now said to be running for Maguindanao governor, the post to be left by Datu Andal Ampatuan Sr. to his son, Andal Jr."
A 2008 report of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (http://pcij.org/stories/amid-the-fighting-the-clan-rules-in-maguindanao/) on the other hand, says the Ampatuans consolidated power since 2001.
In the previous entry, I reposted a 2007 interview by Mindanews' Carol Arguillas with Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) Gov. Datu Zaldy Ampatuan. Asked about the glaring absence of any opposition posters, Ampatuan boasts that Maguindanao is "GMA country."
The PCIJ report, by Jaileen Jimeno, casts a harsh light on the seeds of today's carnage. I have posted the link, but would like to highlight the following paragraphs:
Guns, Palace blessing
Andal Ampatuan has four wives and over 30 children, and intermarriages with other political clans have made his political stock stronger. But political analysts trace the clan’s formidable clout to two main factors: guns and the blessings of Malacanang. They even note that no less than the Palace made it legal for the Ampatuans to have hundreds of armed men and women under their employ.
The 1987 Constitution bans private armed groups. In July 2006, however, the Arroyo administration issued Executive Order 546, allowing local officials and the PNP to deputize barangay tanods as “force multipliers” in the fight against insurgents. In practice, the EO allows local officials to convert their private armed groups into legal entities with a fancy name: civilian volunteer organizations (CVO).
Interestingly, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo issued the EO just weeks after a bombing in the Shariff Aguak public market that killed five people. Andal Ampatuan, who has survived several other ambushes, was said to have been the target.
According to a military officer who served for 16 years in ARMM — five of them in Maguindanao — Andal Ampatuan employs about 200 CVO members. The officer adds that Ampatuan’s sons and relatives maintain armed men, supposedly for their protection. (Andal’s eldest son Saudi was killed in a bomb blast in Shariff Aguak 2002.)
“Everybody carries firearms, mga paltik (homemade guns),” says the military officer. “Or (they) either borrow from the military or the PNP, or they buy.”
A soldier who spent five years on assignment in Maguindanao says of the CVOs here: “They support the internal security requirement of the capitol or the municipio.” He adds that while some of the CVOs are paid by the local government in areas where they serve, they are often “borrowed” for personal use by local officials.
And whenever they board the back of spiffy pickups that are staples of Ampatuan convoys, these CVO members typically lug long firearms. At times, the convoys of 20 vehicles or more also begin and end with pickups mounted with big machine guns.
(italics all mine)
With Mrs. Arroyo herself having laid the foundations of today's barbaric landscape, government talk of possible military and police control over Maguindanao till the May 2010 elections raises more fear than hope.