POSTSCRIPT / November 26, 2009 / Thursday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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A case of ‘Failure of Government’

FAMOUS FURY: What we have in Maguindanao is an alarming case of “Failure of Government.”

Last Monday in Ampatuan town in that province, around 100 armed men waylaid a group on its way to an election office to file required paperwork, herded them to a pre-dug burial site, and executed most of them after satanic torture.

Three days after the grisly massacre — a record election-related incident — no suspect had been taken for questioning. Instead, the Cabinet emissary from Malacanang called on a key suspect and just had a chummy conversation with him.

What we would have wanted to witness was President Arroyo — a split-second after hearing of the massacre of more than 50 persons that included helpless women and journalists — screaming out an order that the perpetrators be dragged in handcuffs to the Palace within 48 hours for a taste of her famous fury.

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SYSTEM BREAKDOWN: Nothing of that sort happened, because a “Failure of Government” has set in.

There has been a breakdown in the system that ensures that citizens’ rights are protected. There has been a failure in the process that vouches for the fulfillment of the solemn oath of the President that she shall “…execute its laws, do justice to every man….(Section 5, Article VII)

If the perpetrators were ordinary goons, or even extraordinarily wily terrorists, the police and the military would have, on Day One, a number of them already identified and chased all over the place.

But these are no ordinary marauders. These are political goons operating beyond the reach of normal police action.

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BOSOM ALLY: That imagined scene of an outraged President throwing thunderbolt for a crime that cries to heaven for justice may not come to pass.

One reason is that substantial time has elapsed since the dastardly act, and any dramatic outburst now will be laughed off as political theatrics.

Another reason is that Maguindanao Gov. Andal Ampatuan, who has been linked the killers, is a bosom ally and allegedly an operator of the Palace in the last elections.

But precisely because of the rumored closeness of the President to one of the logical suspects, she should have acted with lightning speed and thunderous rage.

Acting with dispatch and cutting legal corners should not be difficult for the authorities, because a state of emergency has been declared. With certain rights suspended, suspects can be detained indefinitely while being interrogated.

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ANOTHER RECORD: The mass murder was so heinous that it landed the Philippines in the world press reporting on election-related violence and the murder of media members by assassins of government officials.

Among those killed were the wife and some relatives of Ismael “Toto” Mangudadatu, who wants to vie for the governorship in opposition to the candidacy of a kin of Ampatuan, who can no longer run having been overtaken by term-limit restrictions.

Mangudadatu has reported receiving threats he attributed to the Ampatuans — that he would be kidnapped if he filed the candidacy papers himself. So he sent his wife instead, with his sister and others, to the local election office.

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PRESS PROTEST: As of yesterday, the police digging up hurriedly covered graves have uncovered the bodies of 18 media men, some of them splattered with automatic gunfire in the face.

Near the burial site was the backhoe used to prepare the burial ground. The police gathering physical evidence are verifying reports that the heavy equipment came from the motor pool of the provincial capitol.

Press organizations all over the world have protested the massacre, demanding speedy action from the Arroyo administration — which has been tagged as the regime under which the most number of journalists have been killed on the job.

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RESOLUTE ACTION: The Philippines now carries the dubious distinction of being the world’s most hazardous coverage area for the press. The one-day number of fatalities in Ampatuan town is the biggest on the record anywhere.

So heinous was the crime that in its special board meeting yesterday, the Capampangan in Media Inc. (CAMI) had a hard time finding the words to describe the brutish mass execution of their brothers in the profession.

In a statement, the fraternal organization of journalists and writers from the President’s home province demanded faster and more resolute action to ensure that whoever are the guilty parties pay very dearly for their crime.

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PRIVATE ARMIES: Initial reports from the military last Monday had it that the massacre was carried out by men loyal to the Ampatuans. The governor reportedly maintains a private army of nearly 500 men.

Their being linked to the incident is expected to reopen discussions on the largely forgotten mandate in the 1987 Constitution. Section 24 of Article XVIII, among the transitory provisions, says:

“Private armies and other armed groups not recognized by duly constituted authority shall be dismantled. All paramilitary forces including Civilian Home Defense Forces not consistent with the citizen armed force established in this Constitution, shall be dissolved or, where appropriate, converted into the regular force.”

Under the guise of tapping private armies (of favored politicians) to help promote peace and order in selected areas, some of these goons, plus civilian guards, have not only been tolerated but also supplied with government guns and clothed with authority.

The policy seems to be: They may be private armies, but they are our private armies.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of November 26, 2009)

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