There’s the Rub

Brand of politics

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It’s no easy matter, but I don’t know that we really have much choice in it. The Ampatuans have every right to run in the elections.

The objections to it are of course formidable. Where the Ampatuans are running in particular under the administration party, which is the Liberal Party—there are nine of them, out of 72—the public perception could be, and would be, that government is not stamping out the culture of impunity, it is helping perpetuate it. The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) captured the widespread dismay in this way: “Even as the fear of reprisal continues to haunt witnesses and plaintiffs in the case, the government of Mr. Aquino and the other major political parties in the country have embraced the Ampatuan clan.”

The problem however is this: At the very least, there is this not very small matter of presumption of innocence. Zaldy Ampatuan and Andal Ampatuan have not been convicted yet. Arguably that is so for reasons that have little to do with lack of evidence. This case is not a matter of wit, or determination, it is a matter of will, or implementation. It is the very essence, embodiment and substantiation of the culture of impunity in that it was done with little effort to hide its authorship. Its authorship was plain for everyone to see, the intent of the deed being to put the fear of God or the devil on the Ampatuans’ enemies. I say it again: The point of presumption of innocence is to be fair, not to be blind. It is to be just, not to be idiotic.

But even if their guilt is patent, why should that extend to the rest of their clan? Why should the whole clan be judged on the basis of the crime of some of its members, even if those are its heads, even if those are its patriarch and son? Of course the sins of the fathers are visited upon the children, and often enough ought to, the stigma deservedly attaching to the family name for ages to come. But that may be enforced only culturally, not legally.

If we extend the crime of one person to his clan, the Roxases would not be there, the Aquinos would not be there, the Laurels would not be there. As well indeed as the Aguinaldos, the Ramoses, the Madrigals, the Rectos, the Vargases, and the Yulos. The crime of their forebears, though a political one rather than a criminal one, was collaborating with the enemy during the Japanese occupation. An occupation that led to the massacre of Filipinos, done viciously, done atrociously.

Unless the argument is that the entire Ampatuan clan participated in the Maguindanao massacre, actively or tacitly, unless the argument is that the entire clan approved of the massacre, publicly or privately, how can you condemn it as a whole and impose all sorts of bans on its members? Two wrongs do not make a right.

Of course despite the LP’s and Una’s claims that they have recruited only the more respectable Ampatuans—the specific ones they took in, said Edwin Lacierda though he did not name them, did not share the “brand of politics” of Zaldy and Andal—there will always be the suspicion, or presumption, that they were recruited not for their respectability but for their “winnability.” The Ampatuans remain politically influential however that influence, with the continuing non-conviction of Andal and Zaldy, comes more from coercion than persuasion, from a capacity to harm than an ability to charm. The suspicion, or presumption, is not unjustified, given in particular the kind of political “pragmatism”—or so they call it, others would call it opportunism—Una and the LP have shown these past months.

In the end, there’s no better way to slice through this apparent Gordian knot than to speed up the trial of the Ampatuans. This is a case where delay constitutes a crime in and of itself. It is not merely a monumental injustice to those whose kin perished in one of the most savage and gruesome crimes anywhere in the world, it is a continuing crime. The more it drags, the more open the invitation to murder and mayhem becomes. We’ve already seen that in the murders of some of the witnesses. We’ve already seen that in the terror that has been sown in the hearts of the aggrieved themselves, who are torn between anger and fearfulness, between seeking retribution for the loss they have suffered and accepting settlement for fear of suffering more.

More delay is intolerable, more delay is unacceptable. That three years have passed without the case being nowhere near getting closure, with the victims being nowhere near getting restitution, is a disgrace to all of us. Government should bring its moral and legal authority to bear on it, we should bring our fury and reprehension to bear on it. We need to see the trial take place before the elections, we need to see the verdict made before the elections. The impeachment of Renato Corona took less time, the verdict on Corona took less time.

As the Corona trial itself showed, that is the only way to curb impunity. You cut off the head, the body dies. You stop the shenanigans of the chief justice, you stop the shenanigans of the courts.

If Zaldy and Andal are guilty, then punish them. If Zaldy and Andal are guilty, then send them to a place where the sun doesn’t shine, and keep them there forever. A place where they can do no more harm, a place where they can no longer induce others to do more harm, a place where they cannot embolden others to do more harm. You cut off Zaldy and Andal—if they are guilty—then their tribe, or their clan, or their band of cutthroats will stop cutting throats. You cut off Zaldy and Andal—if they are guilty—and even if their relatives, or followers, or admirers run for office, they have to abide by the rules. They have to turn a new leaf.

They have to practice a new “brand of politics.”

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