By CAROL PAGADUAN-ARAULLO
Streetwise / Business World
Posted by Bulatlat.com
The ongoing trial of foremost Maguindanao massacre suspect, Mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr., has raised hopes in some quarters that justice will be soon rendered to the 58 victims (57 whose remains have been found with 1 still missing). Four other Ampatuans including the patriarch, former Maguindanao governor Andal Ampatuan Sr., are in detention for rebellion – not multiple murders – while reportedly six hundred or so of their armed followers are being “processed” by authorities to determine their culpabilities in this truly heinous crime. Yet something is not quite right.
The public is being lulled and gulled into thinking that this horrific crime is the handiwork of an evil, perhaps insane, mind as personified by this smug-looking, fat-faced mayor. From witnesses’ accounts, Andal Jr. clearly abused his authority to plan and carry out the mass abduction and killing of a caravan of people that counted relatives of his clan’s political enemies, media people, lawyers and innocent motorists who just happened to be in the vicinity. So get him and justice is served, right?
Everybody knows that Andal Jr. could not have perpetrated the gruesome murders by himself. Even government authorities concede that the massacre is the result of a conspiracy involving other high-ranking local government officials in Maguindanao and the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao, apparently Ampatuan clan members all. The official line is that the latter then attempted to undertake a full-scale armed rebellion to prevent arrest and prosecution which allegedly necessitated the imposition of emergency rule and eventually martial law itself in Maguindanao.
Supposedly in this way the Arroyo regime “discovered” the extent and seriousness of the problem of warlordism as practiced by its erstwhile loyal political allies, they who had been consistently delivering the votes in elections for Mrs. Arroyo and her administration’s candidates and most effectively, if brutally, countering the Moro secessionist movement in Muslim Mindanao.
For this another commission has been created with the fantastic mandate to dismantle warlordism in the entire country before the May 2010 presidential elections or barely four months away. Let the commission do its work and the pervading conditions of warlordism that create such monstrous criminals will be addressed, right?
We’re afraid not. Already there are questions about how thoroughly and extensively will the actual perpetrators, brains and accomplices of the massacre be determined and called to account for their parts in the multiple murder and other aggravating crimes. Apart from this, a more comprehensive, impartial and independent investigation is needed to really get to the immediate and long-term causes of one of the most gruesome and brazen mass murders ever committed by persons in authority including civilian government officials, police and military officers, and police, military and paramilitary personnel.
The main question that needs to be addressed is how the Ampatuans amassed the firepower, the wealth and the political clout to be able to plan and carry out the massacre and think they could get away with it; then be treated, at first, with kid gloves (remember Mrs. Arroyo had to immediately dispatch an emissary to mediate the Ampatuan-Mangudadatu conflict and convince Andal Jr. to surrender); and eventually, with the Arroyo regime supposedly fearful of a more widespread armed resistance to its law enforcement efforts post-massacre, to a full-blown martial law regime.
Government is caught with its foot in its mouth for not even at the height of the Arroyo regime’s political instability and insecurity in 2006, when it ranted about a right-left conspiracy to topple it from power, did Mrs. Arroyo declare martial law. That she had to so purportedly to deal with the criminal Ampatuans says volumes about how entrenched and how powerful they had become.
First, the arms. An incredible number of sophisticated weaponry including armored personnel carriers and rare long-range high-caliber rifles were uncovered and seized by the authorities from the Ampatuans and their followers. Mostly government property, these weapons and ammunitions are by and large traceable as to source and the way they found themselves in the possession of the warlords. What has so far cropped up is that the arms trader who has been identified as selling the weaponry to the Ampatuans did so with all the necessary permits from government authorities. So far this is the last we have heard on the matter.
Government is taking an excruciatingly long time determining who is responsible considering that if we were to grant the rebellion theory of the regime an iota of credibility, the arming of the Ampatuans’ followers is tantamount to an act itself of rebellion being undertaken by state security forces and their cohorts.
Next, the so-called private army. It is inaccurate and even dissembling for government to characterize the military/police forces and members of the paramilitary under the control of the provincial and municipal governments headed almost entirely by the Ampatuan as a “private army”. They are in fact armed, paid and clothed with coercive authority by government.
That these state security forces, regular and irregular, are used to further the political and economic interests of local political dynasties and their national patrons like Mrs. Arroyo is an open secret. In fact during elections, the administration candidates used Maguindanao as the place for wholesale dagdag-bawas as was so ignominiously revealed in the “Hello, Garci” election fraud scandal that exposed Mrs. Arroyo’s direct hand in the elections cheating and almost brought her regime down.
Not the least of what must be investigated about the Ampatuans is their mind-boggling wealth as revealed in the numerous mansions, luxury vehicles and the reputed vaults stuffed with cash. (The Ampatuans were apparently not too keen about putting their money in the bank). According to the boast of one of Andal Jr.’s lawyers, the clan is able to retain a battery of 80 lawyers in Mindanao and Manila from a high-powered law firm to ensure they have legal counsel 24/7.
Surely, for such an impoverished province as Maguindanao, not even the wholesale raiding of the province’s internal revenue allotment can account for such wealth. Where did the money come from? Illegal drugs trade, smuggling, gun running and who knows what other kinds of syndicated crimes the Ampatuans are capable of with state authorities looking the other way.
All these point not only to government’s real failure in investigating and prosecuting the Ampatuans but in fact, its complicity in covering up their crimes. Furthermore, the Arroyo regime is not only coddling the Ampatuans, it is also covering up its own culpability in creating this monster and providing it with the entire wherewithal to commit atrocities with impunity.
The Arroyo regime takes the people for fools if it thinks it can get away with passing off the high-profile trial of Andal Ampatuan Jr. with meeting the ends of justice in the Maguindanao massacre. (Business World / Posted by Bulatlat)