Is it not justice and peace we seek?
When I learned about the carnage in Maguindanao, even without making any comparison, I could imagine what had happened in Darfur, the genocide between the Huttus and Tutsis in Rwanda, the killing fields in Cambodia and Vietnam, the Serbian repression of the people of Kosovo.
What happened on November 23 was an election-related violence having no equal in the Philippine history. The Plaza Miranda bombing claimed only nine lives, but so far at least 50 people have been found dead on the spot or unearthed, dismembered, peppered with bullets and abused. Women were reported raped before killed. Two human right lawyers and at least a dozen media personnel were among the victims. More dead bodies are expected to be found as the search continues.
Majority of the victims are women and children who are family members of the Mangundadatu clan and supporters who were in convoy, accompanied by a media delegation and lawyers, to file their certificates of candidacy in Shariff Aguak, province of Maguindanao.
What is appalling to know is how many more trenches, where victims of massacre dumped, could be found in Maguindanao? Is there any truth to the people tied to a tree, cut with a chainsaw and parts thrown into the river? Is there any truth to the display of bravado that usually ends up in a killing spree even in public places. Is there any truth to being lucky enough to be killed for defying orders or refusing a favor if your family is spared? Is it true that you can only whisper the abuses and the identity of the perpetrators while drinking with your buddies? Heed any warning immediately and be wary of talking about them on media, in public or any forum otherwise your head will be found in the trash bin the next day. Is there really any witness or survivor who is courageous enough to testify on experiences and asked for redress and reparations? Beyond this incomprehensible truth is the prospect of more violence, knowing the culture of the Bangsamoro people. The surviving relatives of the victims demonstrated sobriety and promised to abide by the justice system. But patience may be short when the wheels of justice in the country would be stuck in the dirt of politics and lost in the election fever.
Almost everyone in Mindanao knows the political clout, wealth, notoriety and the expanding clan of the Ampatuan since the year 2000 by controlling any electoral posts and appointments in Maguindanao and now including the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). Datu Andal Ampatuan Sr. acts as governor of Maguindanao, and his sons: Datu Andal Ampatuan Jr., mayor of the municipality of Shariff Aguak, Datu Yacob Ampatuan of Rajah Buayan, Datu Datu Akmad Ampatuan of Mamasapano, Datu Saudi Ampatuan of Saudi, Datu Unsay Ampatuan of Unsay and Zaldy Ampatuan as governor of ARMM.
Accordingly, nobody could point an accusing finger at the Ampatuans, not even an inquiry on their alleged abuses and gross violations of human rights possible by any national media or government agency or non-government organization. Even armed dissident groups in Mindanao with clear political ideology cannot afford to make an enemy of the Ampatuans. How much more the present administration, that in creating an ally in politics – to perpetuate power- unleashes a monster that does not heed its bidding anymore.
So far, the Ampatuans are not only above the law but beyond justice. Placing the province of Maguindanao under the state of emergency, relieving posts in the military and police, party discipline, condemning the violence and ordering a manhunt are short of what the Filipino people and the world expect of the administration.
The Ampatuans should be placed under investigation immediately and their battalion of para-military disarmed to persuade witnesses to come forward. When the Ampatuans are free, they could intimidate the witnesses and commit further abuses at will without worry that any military arm will stop them.
With pressures from the international human rights community and the incessant clamor for justice in the country, the present administration is given an opportunity to break the culture of impunity and address justice with impartiality. If the government still fail this time, we loss our status as a leading democratic nation in Asia and our advancement in the human rights will be put in question.