COTANGENT – By Daphne Cardillo
That the Maguindanao massacre (where 57 people were brutally murdered and buried in mass graves) should happen at this point in time must somehow erase our illusion of a modern society brought much about by western influence and advanced technology. People who are using Ipods and the Internet, or eating foreign cuisines and practically living a western lifestyle speak of the incident as barbaric or in other absolute derogatory terms. The November 23 mass killing, is, indeed a heinous crime.
For this is the age of Human Rights of which advocacy is the highest form of a democratic ideal. And even if we hear of ethnic cleansing in the Balkan Peninsula or in the African continent, we still consider the Filipinos to be a compassionate lot as to resort to such kind of violence. Probably so, except that the ordinary citizens are already immune to hearing daily killings in the Philippines that “borrowing a backhoe” has recently become a pastime joke.
But we had reported massacres before, of the more ominous kind, as they were carried out by agents of the State. In 1970 alone, 14 massacres were perpetrated by the military-backed Ilaga against the Moro people, 3 of which accounted for the loss of more than 60 lives in each mass killing. And this happened even before the war between the Moro National Liberation Front and the Government of the Republic of the Philippines, and before Martial Law.
This time, however, the Maguindanao massacre was carried out by a local official with the aid of armed security men like in the era of political warlords in the 60s and earlier decades. As Governor Datu Andal S. Ampatuan Sr. said, “In Maguindanao, everyone is armed…so leaders are also armed.” And the massive arming of Maguindanao’s political leaders had been fortified by Arroyo’s Executive Order 546 which gives the Local Government Unit control over the local police. Indeed, the Ampatuans’ security men are legitimized as community auxiliary police.
An ancient culture further aggravated an already volatile situation in Muslim Mindanao, for as Julkipli Wadi of the Islamic Studies at the University of the Philippines contends, the “Moros’ social structure has largely remained fossilized for centuries,” “a highly-entrenched feudal structure that has undergone no substantial structural change and political reform.” As a consequence, the primitive view of total annihilation still pervades as a way of resolving an issue.
We are now faced with a situation that is brought about by a confluence of seemingly extreme variables; a fledging democracy, a weak State under the United Nation’s mandate to abide international laws, a feudal structure in which a majority of the local population is being ruled by a few, an ancient worldview widely held by the populace, and the availability of modern technology (e.g. high-powered firearms, mobile phones, heavy equipment.)
Looking back at that horrible incident, it would be easy to say that Datu Andal Ampatuan Jr. is insane. But could insanity be collective, or that infectious, as manifested by the number of people who rallied behind him in the preparation and final conduct of that monstrous crime. Yet the most insane thing of the whole incident was that Esmael Mangudadatu, who seemed to be the primary target, was nowhere among the mass of people that was slaughtered. The elimination of a strong political enemy was never achieved.
At hindsight, the extreme nature of the Maguindanao massacre could be giving us some signs for radical changes to take place. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo must repeal the Executive Order 546. Democratization must be imposed to gradually loosen the highly-entrenched feudal structure and its attendant social relations in Muslim Mindanao. The people must be empowered through education and economic opportunities in order for the popular will to prevail. And finally, the State must govern—and not expediently allot money and power for political leaders to own for themselves, or used to suppress their respective constituents.