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A Nation of Warlords

Greg MacabentaBy Greg Macabenta
DALY CITY Are we shocked by the brazenness of the Maguindanao massacre? Why Should we be? Haven’t we known all along that the Philippines is a nation of warlords?

The Ampatuans have their equivalent in the Ilocos, Cagayan, Central Luzon, Bicol, Eastern and Western Visayas and all over Mindanao. The only difference between the Maguindanao warlords and those in the other regions – aside from the highly publicized state of war with Muslim separatists – is the number of people slaughtered in the recent massacre and the inclusion of 30 journalists among the fatalities. But whether one or ten or 57 victims, we’re seeing the same scenario: the impunity with which the carnage was planned and executed, the arrogance of the perpetrators and the impotence of the authorities.

Of course, the Arroyo administration has begun to play good cop, bad cop. Lorelei Fajardo, speaking on behalf of Arroyo, declared that her boss will not necessarily end her “friendship” with the Ampatuans. On the other hand, Ronnie Puno threatened an attack by government forces on the Ampatuan fortress if the principal suspect, Andal Ampatuan, did not turn himself in, and Gilbert Teodoro “anointed” Ismael Mangudadatu, as the LAKAS-Kampi candidate for governor.

What do you think will happen if the Mangudadatus displace the Ampatuans and assume power? Say hello to a new set of warlords.

When will this end? Don’t hold your breath. It won’t end.
For as long as economic and political power is concentrated in the hands of a small number of provincial families, it won’t end. For as long as the occupant of Malacañang or those who covet the position depends on provincial strongmen to deliver votes at any cost, it won’t end. As long as the national government is incapable of enforcing the law and has to depend on provincial bosses to keep criminal elements, radicals and separatists in line, it won’t end.

And for as long as the poor, who make up the majority of Filipinos, depend on political and business overlords for their subsistence and their very existence, it won’t end.

The Philippines is really an archipelago of fiefdoms masquerading as a democracy. Does anyone actually believe that the political overlords, warlords, gambling lords, vice lords, and economic czars will give up their power?

For years, scholars have written about this sorry situation in our country. In January this year, a book entitled, “An Anarchy of Families,” was released by the University of Wisconsin.

This winner of the Philippine National Book Award “reveals how the power of Filipino family-based oligarchies both derives from and contributes to a weak, corrupt state. From provincial warlords to modern managers, prominent Philippine leaders have fused family, politics, and business to subvert public institutions and amass private wealth-an historic pattern that continues to the present day.

“Edited by Alfred W. McCoy, ”An Anarchy of Families” explores the pervasive influence of the modern dynasties that have led the Philippines during the past century. From the Osmeñas to the Lopezes and Pardo de Taveras, elite Filipino families have acted as formidable coalitions-controlling capital, dominating national politics, and deploying paramilitary force. Beyond Manila, strong men such as Ramon Durano, Ali Dimaporo, and Justiniano Montano have used ‘guns, goons, and gold’ to accumulate wealth and power in far-flung islands and provinces.

So what can we non-warlords do? What can we journalists, who have become virtual clay pigeons in a shooting gallery in the Philippines, do?

We can cast the searing spotlight of worldwide attention and scorn on the perpetrators and those who have nurtured them. We must hold accountable before the world, not only those directly responsible for the carnage but also those who have allowed their fiefdoms to exist as well as those whose impotence and inadequacy have abetted the impunity.

A petition entitled, “Strike against impunity. Strike for Peace and Democracy,” has been going around on the Internet, generating thousands of signatures. It makes several demands:
The arrest and prosecution of the killers. Immediate suspension from office of everyone linked to the crime. Arrest of police and military officers guilty of “commission” or “omission” and the punishment of criminal coddlers.

The creation of an independent commission and a special court to undertake the trial of the suspects. The immediate dismantling of para-military forces. The overhaul of the justice system. Media access to all stages of investigation and protection for witnesses and families of victims.

We already know what will happen. Nothing. Just lip service. But the petition is important because it expresses what Arroyo and the government need to do in the face of this plague of violence. But, in order to force them to act, the following moves should also be made:
1) Present the petition to the United Nations which has already expressed concern over this massacre and the Arroyo government’s notoriety for extra-judicial killings. Demand to know what the UN intends to do beyond simply condemning the mass murders.
2) Present it to President Barack Obama and to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and ask them if they will continue to gently deal with their ally Gloria Macapagal Arroyo the way Arroyo is gently dealing with her friends, the Ampatuans.
3) Send copies of the petition to journalists and press clubs in the US, Europe, the Middle East, Latin America, Asia and Australia and appeal for fraternal support and equivalent petitions.
4) Send copies to members of the US Senate and House of Representatives and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (who plans to visit Manila next year).
5) Generate a worldwide expression of outrage over this case of inhumanity.
6) Demand an expression of outrage from Manny Pacquio – if he, in fact, deserves to be regarded as a hero of our people. Let’s see how he will handle this challenge.
7) Demand more than lip service from the presidential candidates, Aquino, Villar, Estrada and Teodoro and ask if they have the balls to lead a march of protest in Maguindanao.
9) Write to every single senior officer in the AFP and the PNP and ask them if they still have balls.
10) In sum, do not stop at addressing this petition to the Arroyo government. It will be an exercise in futility. They need the kind of worldwide pressure that was put to bear on South Africa to get them to consider saving their own skins rather than that of the Ampatuans.

It took the CIA to dramatize the brutality of political warlords by having Ramon Magsaysay carry the bloody remains of Moises Padilla in his arms. Do we really need the CIA to underscore the brutality of the Ampatuans and the impotence of the Philippine authorities?(gregmacabenta@hotmail.com)

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One Response to A Nation of Warlords

  1. Let’s not forget Chavit Singson of Ilocos Sur who lords the region for decades longer than the Ampatuans. This warlord, gambling lord and criminal remains untouchable.