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At Large
Understanding the unbelievable

By Rina Jimenez-David
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 22:53:00 11/24/2009

Filed Under: Massacre, Politics, Elections

I WAS TUNED IN TO ?BENTE KWATRO ORAS,? GMA-7?s early evening newscast, Monday and at first I thought I had heard the ?breaking news? headline wrong. Even newscaster Mike Enriquez sounded as if he couldn?t believe what he was reading.

More than 20 people killed, the rest kidnapped? Among the dead a number of media people and women, some of them beheaded and bearing evidence of having been raped? It sounded more like a scenario out of some outlandish Western, or over-the-top thriller, not a real life event involving Filipinos. Worse, the ambush and slaughter seemed to signal the beginning of what promises to be a most violent and virulent election season. The ?serious? candidates have yet to file their certificates of candidacy, and already shoot-outs and massacres are taking place. Can we expect a blood-soaked 2010 election season?

PPCRV head former Ambassador Henrietta de Villa looked a little sad when we bumped into each other Tuesday. ?I knew some of the victims,? she lamented, explaining that she had visited Maguindanao frequently in previous elections and in preparation for next year?s polls. As part of her duties, she added, she was planning a trip to the area to assess the situation, smiling wanly when I reacted with horror and begged her to ?please keep safe.?

One thing she would take up with local Comelec authorities, added the ambassador, was the matter of allowing candidates from rival factions to file their COCs in ?safe? or at least ?neutral? areas. The reason the delegation from the Mangudadatu clan was particularly vulnerable, some have pointed out, was that they had to pass through territory controlled by their rival Ampatuan clan.

The delegation was headed by Genalyn Mangudadatu, wife of Vice Mayor Toto Mangudadatu of Buluan, who was planning a run for provincial governor. And the reason it may have been his wife who was going to file the certificate of candidacy, accompanied by a large number of women and media, was precisely to avoid violence. Even the most heated and fierce political rivals, after all, call for a ceasefire when women are involved, and in the presence of media.

* * *

WHICH is why the killings on the road leading to Shariff Aguak town have been condemned loudly and vehemently. Not only because of the cruelty and vileness involved, but also because they were carried out with apparent planning and cold-blooded cunning.

Police on the scene found a backhoe, purportedly owned by the provincial government, near the site of the ambush. There was some speculation that the backhoe was used to bury some of the bodies.

The Ampatuans, including ARMM Gov. Zaldy Ampatuan, former Maguindanao Gov. Datu Andal Ampatuan and his son, Mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr., are of course the natural suspects, given their troubled history with the Mangudadatus. But they are also considered valued political allies of the President and the ruling party.

The latest bit of news is that the President has already declared a state of emergency in Maguindanao and has dispatched troops to the area. On one hand, the presence of the military may calm the situation somewhat and prevent the onset of retaliatory attacks. On the other, the availability of heavy arms and materiel could lead to an escalation of the conflict, with the tense situation ripe for exploitation by forces with more sinister motives.

* * *

IF, AS some reports say, the massacre is just part of a long-standing clan feud (rido), we need to understand first of all the nature of the rido and the price all Filipinos pay when clan wars erupt. Freelance journalist Samira Gutoc provided this backgrounder, based on an article by Svenja Smelcher written in 2007:

?Once a rido has started the impact on a family and even the community at large is manifold. Fischeder writes that during a rido, every member of a family has to take extra precautions that disturb daily routine. Security, especially at night, has to be provided or men have to hide completely and have to leave women and children behind. Even evacuation and moving to a safe residence far away might be necessary. Property can be destroyed and income reduced. Because targets of high status are preferred, it is often the breadwinner who is in danger. That way the opponent group can cripple the enemy financially (Vitug). Also the education of children gets neglected which can have far reaching consequences. And even though women, children and outsiders are normally excluded, these barriers seem to loosen up.

?Therefore not just the conflicting parties but the community as a whole is suffering. On top of random killings, public property and surrounding houses are getting destroyed.

* * *

?BUT the impact of rido does not stop with the family and the community. It even has a national dimension: it threatens the peace talks between the government and the MILF (Arguillas+Canuday+Bagayaua, 2005). As members of the feuding clans might be closely related to either government or military officials on one side or members of the MILF on the other side, both forces are easily dragged into the conflict. This can lead to a ?full-blown war? (Arguillas).

?If and in whatever way the government is dragged into a conflict, it will cost the taxpayers millions of pesos (Arguillas). And not just war is costly, but peace is as well. If the government supports an amicable settlement local officials often have to look for resources to help in rebuilding houses or raising the blood money that is requested by the offended party (Arguillas+Vitug). Here feuds are already seen as counterproductive because they take time and resources away? Underdevelopment follows promptly.?

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