Monday, December 21, 2009

The Philippines: After the Maguindanao Massacre


Jakarta/Brussels, 21 December 2009: The international outrage generated by last month’s massacre in Maguindanao, southern Philippines, of 57 men and women, half of them journalists, may offer opportunities to make progress in the areas of justice, security and peace.

The Philippines: After the Maguindanao Massacre,* the latest update briefing from the International Crisis Group, shows how the 23 November killings were not the result of a clan feud, as widely reported, but of Manila’s deliberate nurturing of a ruthless warlord in exchange for votes.

“To call it a feud is to diminish the Arroyo administration’s role in allowing a local despot to indulge his greed and ambition, including through building up a private army in the name of fighting insurgents”, says Sidney Jones, Senior Adviser to Crisis Group’s Asia program.

The immediate trigger for the killings was the decision of one man, Esmail “Toto” Mangudadatu, to run for governor of Maguindanao province, which for the last decade has been the fiefdom of the Ampatuan family. Political patronage of the Ampatuans by successive governments in Manila allowed them to amass absolute power, including the possession of a private arsenal that included mortars, rocket launchers and state-of-the-art assault rifles. The family either controlled or had terrified into submission the police, the courts, and the local election commission. Andal Ampatuan Sr is believed to have given the order for the killings. His son, Andal Jr, who has now been indicted for multiple murder, is suspected of carrying it out, with about 100 armed followers.

The government now has three urgent tasks. The first is to see that justice is done by trying and convicting the killers as expeditiously as possible. The second is to improve security by ending private and local funding for civilian auxiliaries to the police and military and asserting far more control over procurement and issuance of firearms. The third is to ensure the peace process with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) moves forward. It was on the pretext of fighting the MILF that the Ampatuans built their private force.

“The massacre has opened opportunities to move forward on all these fronts”, says Jim Della-Giacoma, South East Asia Project Director. “The tragedy of the killings will only be compounded if those opportunities are not pursued”.

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