Backhoe politics

The worst episode of election-related violence in our history, the deadliest single assault on the media recorded in the world, the most brutal display of impunity in memory—and yet three years after the horrific massacre in Ampatuan town in Maguindanao, the powerful family that ordered it has not only successfully delayed criminal conviction, it also remains very much a political force in the province.

Nothing prevents the Ampatuan family from contesting political office in the province they call their own, of course; that is within their right (even if the massacre’s immediate cause was the family’s attempt to prevent other candidates from exercising that same right). But should other politicians help entrench the Ampatuans in a position where they can escape full responsibility for the massacre?

The ruling Liberal Party sees itself as the party of reform. But what principle of reform politics allows the LP to field nine Ampatuans in six local races? According to the PCIJ, two clan members are running for mayor, one for vice mayor, and six for councilor—all under the LP flag. And according to Maguindanao Gov. Esmael Mangudadatu, these Ampatuans are nothing like the leaders of the family who have been prosecuted for masterminding the massacre.

That may well be, but Mangudadatu, whose own wife and sister perished in the mass killings, is missing the point. The first step in ensuring that the shocking events of Nov. 23, 2009, will not happen again is to remove the Ampatuan family from political power—not to reward those members who failed to stop the massacre or (and this is a point often conveniently forgotten) who failed to stop other excesses committed by the family since at least 2001.

By following Mangudadatu’s lead, President Aquino’s own party has now allowed the Aquino and Ampatuan names to be linked under the damning label of political convenience. People will ask: What, really, is the difference between the President’s cousin, Bam Aquino, and, say, Sarip Kasan Ampatuan, who is running for mayor (against another Ampatuan!)? They are both running because they belong to the “right” family, and the time is opportune.

But if the LP is to be scorned, Vice President Jejomar Binay’s United Nationalist Alliance must be condemned. According to the same PCIJ report, UNA is fielding 34 Ampatuans for various offices in Maguindanao—including the wives of two of the principal suspects in the massacre: Zaldy, the former governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, and Andal Jr., the former mayor of Datu Unsay.

UNA sees itself as the party of competence, because of Binay’s lengthy stint as mayor of Makati, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile’s lengthy resumé and deposed President Joseph Estrada’s lengthy, uh, acting career. In what possible universe can the Ampatuan family be considered avatars of competence?

That the ARMM is, in the words of President Aquino, a “failed experiment,” tells us all we need to know about Zaldy, the clan’s fair-haired boy. That Maguindanao was one of the worst-run provinces in the country during Andal Sr.’s long reign cannot be proof of competence. Unless, of course, UNA is interested in another kind of competence.

Without a doubt, the Ampatuans know how to manufacture election results, something ex-president Gloria Arroyo knows well. But then again UNA is fielding Juan Miguel Zubiri, one of the beneficiaries of Ampatuan competence, in its Senate slate; perhaps we shouldn’t be too surprised at UNA’s unprincipled pragmatism.

But the symbiotic relationship between local elites and national politicians is precisely one of the reasons why the witnesses, the victims’ families and the loyal lawyers prosecuting the case continue, not only to worry about the trial’s outcome, but also to fear for their safety. They know, because they have seen it for themselves, that political power breeds money, and money buys not only armies but time itself, and time is their enemy.

One does not need to be a lawyer to know that the Ampatuans’ best legal strategy is to wear out the prosecution: to see more witnesses fall to sudden illness or even more sudden death, to see the victims’ families consume themselves in endless worry and constant expense, to see political expediency slowly but surely trump evidence. How can the political parties not know that support for Ampatuan candidates feeds the very impunity that led to the massacre?

Follow Us

Follow us on Facebook Follow on Twitter Follow on Twitter

More from this Column:

Recent Stories:

Complete stories on our Digital Edition newsstand for tablets, netbooks and mobile phones; 14-issue free trial. About to step out? Get breaking alerts on your mobile.phone. Text ON INQ BREAKING to 4467, for Globe, Smart and Sun subscribers in the Philippines.

Short URL: http://opinion.inquirer.net/?p=41335

Tags: Ampatuan clan , criminal justice , editorial , maguindanao massacre , political convenience , politics

Copyright © 2014, .
To subscribe to the Philippine Daily Inquirer newspaper in the Philippines, call +63 2 896-6000 for Metro Manila and Metro Cebu or email your subscription request here.
Factual errors? Contact the Philippine Daily Inquirer's day desk. Believe this article violates journalistic ethics? Contact the Inquirer's Reader's Advocate. Or write The Readers' Advocate:
c/o Philippine Daily Inquirer Chino Roces Avenue corner Yague and Mascardo Streets, Makati City, Metro Manila, Philippines Or fax nos. +63 2 8974793 to 94


  • Enrile chief aide back in PH ‘to face charges’–report
  • Pakistan library named ‘bin Laden,’ as memory fades
  • US teacher fired over comment on black president
  • Magnitude-7.5 earthquake shakes Mexican capital
  • Title of new Hillary Clinton book: ‘Hard Choices’
  • Sports

  • Motivated LeBron James preps for postseason
  • Nadal ousted by Ferrer in Monte Carlo quarters
  • Pacquiao shorts in Bradley fight sold for P1.7M in LA auction
  • Ryu pitches Dodgers past Giants
  • Alonso sets the pace in Chinese GP practice
  • Lifestyle

  • Levine designs womenswear with help from fiancee
  • Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Nobel laureate, dies at 87
  • Ford Mustang turns 50 atop Empire State Building
  • Pro visual artists, lensmen to judge Pagcor’s photo contest
  • ‘Labahita a la bacalao’
  • Entertainment

  • Myx TV premieres Asian American ‘docu-series’
  • A nutty finale for ‘Scandal,’ TV’s craziest show
  • EXO postpones release of mini album ‘Overdose’
  • ‘X-men’ filmmaker slams ‘fabricated’ sex attack claims
  • Singer Chris Brown’s bodyguard on trial in DC
  • Business

  • US commerce secretary spells out economic facet of ‘pivot to Asia’
  • Italy sells luxury state cars on eBay
  • Asian shares mostly up in quiet trade
  • Dollar up in Asia on US jobs data, Ukraine deal
  • Barbie doll has a problem
  • Technology

  • Nasa’s moon-orbiting robot crashes down
  • Netizens pay respects to Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  • Nokia recalls 30,000 chargers for Lumia 2520 tablet
  • Facebook rolls out ‘nearby friends’ feature
  • Netizens seethe over Aquino’s ‘sacrifice’ message
  • Opinion

  • Editorial cartoon, April 17, 2014
  • A humbler Church
  • Deepest darkness
  • ‘Agnihotra’ for Earth’s health
  • It’s the Holy Week, time to think of others
  • Global Nation

  • Multicultural flock marks Good Friday in San Francisco
  • Las Vegas ‘Pinoy Pride’ fest hails Filipino heritage
  • Marking Jesus’ journey on Good Friday
  • Filipina accomplice arrested for fake bills in Malaysia
  • DoH denies Filipino nurse no longer positive for MERS virus
  • Marketplace