The massacre on 23 November 2009 of 57 men and women by the private army of a warlord allied to Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo shocked the country and the world. The immediate trigger for the killings was the decision of one man, Esmail “Toto” Mangudadatu, to run for governor of Maguindanao province, which for the last decade has been the fiefdom of the Ampatuan family. Political patronage by successive governments in Manila, most notably by the Arroyo administration, allowed the Ampatuans to amass great wealth and unchecked power, including the possession of a private arsenal with mortars, rocket launchers and state-of-the-art assault rifles. They controlled the police, the judiciary, and the local election commission. In the wake of the massacre, there are opportunities for new measures in the areas of justice, security and peace. The question is whether anyone in a position of power will seize them.
The Ampatuans’ exercise of absolute authority was made possible not only by political patronage from Manila, but also by laws and regulations permitting the arming and private funding of civilian auxiliaries to the army and police; lack of oversight over or audits of central government allocations to local government budgets; the ease with which weapons can be imported, purchased and circulated; and a thoroughly dysfunctional legal system. The family also took advantage of the conflict between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) to position itself as a loyal counter-insurgency force, even though it used the green light obtained for arming civilians more to expand its own power than defend the state.
In the aftermath of the massacre, the government declared martial law to facilitate the arrests of the Ampatuans and pursue their private army, which included dozens of police. It lifted it after a week, and it remains to be seen whether any of those arrested will actually be tried and convicted. Fear of retaliation by the Ampatuans extends even to Manila, where a judge withdrew from the case involving the only member of the family indicted for multiple murder, citing the security of his own family.
Domestic and international anger over the massacre, which involved mutilation of the women victims and constituted the single biggest death toll of journalists ever in a single incident anywhere in the world, could lead to progress on a number of fronts if:
Background to the massacre
On 23 November, 100 armed men of the Ampatuan militia, including officials of the local police force, intercepted a convoy of female relatives of Esmail “Toto” Mangudadatu, who were on their way to file papers for Mangudadatu’s candidacy for the governorship of Maguindanao province. The convoy was accompanied by about 30 journalists. According to a police witness, the members of the convoy were lined up at the site and shot, beginning with the Mangudadatu women. Altogether, 21 women and 36 men were killed.
The massacre was not, as many media reports have described it, the result of a longstanding feud (rido) between two powerful clans. To call it a feud is to diminish the role played by Manila in building up a political machine and allowing it to exert absolute authority over a huge swathe of central Mindanao in exchange for votes at election time and military help against insurgents. This was not the inevitable result of historic hatreds, but of the deliberate nurturing of a local warlord, Andal Ampatuan Sr, who was allowed to indulge his greed and ambition in exchange for political loyalty. He began to change from a small-time politico to an authoritarian strongman in the late 1990s, but his power grew exponentially under the Arroyo government. The massacre happened when an erstwhile ally decided to run for governor on Ampatuan turf.
The Freedom Fund for Filipino Journalists (FFFJ), a network of independent media organizations in the Philippines in partnership with the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), a mass organization of journalists across the country, dispatched a humanitarian and Fact-Finding Team to Maguindanao from November 25 to 30, 2009 for two objectives:
1. Extend immediate humanitarian assistance to the reporters and media workers killed in the November 23, 2009 massacre; and
2. Conduct an independent and fair documentation of what had happened.
The Fact-Finding Team interviewed local journalists and NUJP members, the Department of Social Welfare and Development, and family members of the victims – and visited the funeral parlors and wakes – to come up with a list of the reporters and media workers who were killed in the massacre.
Extract: Report of the Humanitarian and Fact-Finding Mission to Maguindanao of the Freedom Fund for Filipino Journalists and the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines
1. Adolfo, Benjie - Gold Star Daily, Koronadal City
2. Araneta, Henry - Radio DZRH, General Santos City
3. Arriola, Mark Gilbert “Mac-Mac" - UNTV, General Santos City
4. Bataluna, Rubello - Gold Star Daily, Koronadal City
5. Betia, Arturo - Periodico Ini, General Santos City
6. Cabillo, Romeo Jimmy - Midland Review, Tacurong City
7. Cablitas, Marites - News Focus, General Santos City
8. Cachuela, Hannibal - Punto News, Koronadal City
9. Cadagdagon, Jepon - Saksi News. General Santos City.
10. Caniban, John - Periodico Ini, General Santos City
11. Dalmacio, Lea - Socsargen News, General Santos City
12. Decina, Noel - Periodico Ini, General Santos City
13. Dela Cruz, Gina - Saksi News, General Santos City
14. Duhay, Jhoy - Gold Star Daily, Tacurong City
15. Evardo, Jolito - UNTV, General Santos City
16. Gatchalian, Santos - DXGO, Davao City
17. Legarte, Bienvenido, Jr. - Prontiera News, Koronadal City
18. Lupogan, Lindo - Mindanao Daily Gazette, Davao City
19. Maravilla, Ernesto “Bart" - Bombo Radyo, Koronadal City
20. Merisco, Rey - Periodico Ini, Koronadal City
21. Momay, Reynaldo “Bebot" - Midland Review, Tacurong City (still missing)
22. Montaño, Marife “Neneng" - Saksi News, General Santos City
23. Morales, Rosell - News Focus, General Santos City
24. Nuñez, Victor - UNTV, General Santos City
25. Perante, Ronnie - Gold Star Daily correspondent, Koronadal City
26. Parcon, Joel - Prontiera News, Koronadal City
27. Razon, Fernando “Rani" - Periodico Ini, General Santos City
28. Reblando, Alejandro “Bong" - Manila Bulletin, General Santos City
29. Salaysay, Napoleon - Mindanao Gazette, Cotabato City
30. Subang, Ian - Socsargen Today, General Santos City
31. Teodoro, Andres “Andy" - Central Mindanao Inquirer, Tacurong City
32. Tiamson, Daniel - UNTV, General Santos City