In the weeks following the Ampatuan Massacre, I scoured through hundreds of news articles and opinion columns about the barbaric slaughter of 61 innocent people, including 31 working journalists. I also saw posted on the Internet gruesome close-up photos of the mangled, brutalized bodies of the victims, images which still haunt me.
One columnist, Jose Ma. Montelibano, wrote that he was “crushed by the Maguinadano massacre and the congressional run of a sitting president". I emailed him and asked him how he could possibly compare the two events and place them both on the same scale. I told him it diminished and trivialized the most brazen, barbaric act in recent memory to include it in the same sentence with the latest political ploy of Pres. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (GMA) to remain in power.
In response, Montelibano wrote that he agreed “the barbarism of the Maguindanao massacre is a class of its own in the history of brutality in the Philippines.” But, he insisted, “the barbarism happened because the barbarians were encouraged by their unholy alliance with Gloria that anything goes for as long as they do their part in keeping Gloria in power. The arms that have been discovered so far around the barbarians' complex also came from the AFP and DND as well as from other sources. The unholy alliance gave not only a signal of encouragement but arms to affirm support beyond the law.”
“The lust for power is the cause for barbarism with impunity and official power,” he wrote. “Such brazenness would not have been possible without presidential support, even presidential initiatives asking the barbarians to do everything possible to ensure political victory and control.”
I understood his point but I also expressed my view that the issue went beyond GMA and that even if Fernando Poe. Jr. had been president in November of 2009, the Ampatuans would still have been the warlords of Maguindanao and the ARRM and this same massacre would have likely still occurred. The cancer of feudal warlordism is more deep-seated and existed before GMA became president and will continue no matter who is elected president in May 2010.
I would also add that it is not only the “lust for power” that causes barbarians to act with impunity, it is also the fact that in the history of the Philippines, people in power and even those out of power enjoy de facto immunity from prosecution. Unlike South Korea, Taiwan and Peru where former presidents were arrested, charged, imprisoned and convicted for corruption, that has not been the case in the Philippines.
The closest we ever came to such justice was when Erap Estrada was charged and convicted of plunder. But before he could even spend a day in the Bilibid prison, he was quickly pardoned by his successor GMA. It is understandable that GMA did not want to create a bad precedent for former presidents.
In May of 1970, a young warlord from Vigan, Ilocos Sur by the name of Vincent “Bingbong” Crisologo, the son of Gov. Carmeling Crisologo and Rep. Floro Crisologo, brought his private army to descend on two hapless towns whose people did not vote for his mother. The Bantay, Ilocos Sur towns of Ora Centro and Ora Este were razed to the ground and many villagers slaughtered to teach the people of Ilocos Sur a lesson similar to the lesson that another young warlord, Andal Ampatuan Jr., wanted the people of Maguindanao to learn. Don’t mess with the Crisologos then, don’t mess with the Ampatuans now.
Bingbong was arrested and charged with the pillaging of the towns and the murders of innocent civilians. He was convicted and sentenced to two life terms. While he was serving his sentence, however, Bingbong became a “born again Christian” and was pardoned. He is now in the Batasan serving as a congressman for Quezon City.
Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos committed countless crimes during their 20 years in power, including 14 years as conjugal dictators, ordering the tortures and executions (“salvaging”) of their political opponents and the theft of billions of dollars of the people’s treasury. But they never spent a single day in jail for their crimes.
Imelda even got the Philippine Supreme Court recently to order the return to her of the $650-M in jewelry that she stole fair and square. Imelda is now running for the Ilocos Norte congressional seat being vacated by her son, Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, Jr., who is running for the Philippine Senate under the presidential banner of Erap Estrada.
During the Japanese occupation of the Philippines, hundreds of thousands of Filipinos were tortured and killed by the Japanese imperial forces aided and abetted by their Filipino collaborators led by Jose B. Laurel, president of the puppet republic. Laurel’s sons even went to Japan to study and they ate the finest food in Malacanang while the people suffered. When the American forces returned to reclaim the Philippines as an American commonwealth, the Japanese command flew Laurel and his family to Japan fearing American retribution against them for their collaboration.
Laurel was arrested by US authorities in Japan and extradited to the Philippines to stand trial for treason. But Laurel was never tried. Manuel Roxas, who was himself a member of Laurel’s puppet government, was elected president in 1946 and he immediately proclaimed an amnesty for all political prisoners including Laurel.
I believe Imelda Marcos ordered the assasination of Ninoy Aquino and Erap “Bigote” Estrada similarly ordered the executions of Bubby Dacer and Edgardo Bentain. But they will never be charged with those capital offenses because nobody ever really pays for their crimes in the Philippines.
That is the nature of our damaged culture that allows warlords and ambitious ruthless politicians to commit crimes against the people with impunity fully confident that if they're ever caught, they can always be pardoned.
The murderous jackal, Andal Ampatuan Jr., may take comfort in this sorry history of impunity. After all is said and done, like Bingbong and Bongbong, he may yet serve as a future congressman.