Thoughts on the Maguindanao massacre  

Posted by Laya in , ,

The taxi I took last night to get home had its radio tuned to GMA teleradyo, and the driver was listening to the news. Just as we entered the traffic along Araneta Ave., Jiggy Manicad's report on the Maguindanao Massacre came on, where he interviewed Buluan Vice-Mayor Toto Mangudadatu, who had finally seen the dead body of his wife, one of those killed in the massacre. By the time I reached my destination, I was already crying from sorrow, anger and frustration.

“My wife’s private parts were slashed four times, after which they fired a bullet into it. They speared both of her eyes, shot both her breasts, cut off her feet, fired into her mouth. I could not begin to describe the manner by which they treated her," Mangudadatu said, trying to hide the tremor in his voice. "I cannot cry. I have to show my people that I am strong," he added.

Two of Mangudadatu's sisters, Bai Eden and Bai Faridah, were also killed in the massacre. One of them was four months pregnant. One of their aunts, Bai Manguda, was also reported to have been with them.

Aside from the Mangudadatu family members and relatives, the massacre victims also included two female lawyers, one of whom also had her elderly father with her, many journalists, and even some people who were on their way to Cotabato City to consult a doctor, and whose vehicles had gotten into or near the convoy when it was attacked.

According to news reports, Mangudadatu said that there were witnesses who had been able to escape from the convoy and who said that the attackers belonged to the Ampatuan clan, whose stronghold was the town where the attack happened. He also said that his wife had managed to call him over the cellphone and tell him of the attack, that the attackers were forcing them to rip up the papers they were to file with the Comelec for his candidacy, that the attackers were forcing them to even eat and swallow those papers, before the call was cut off. In one of the interviews of him after news of the massacre came out, he said that he had already been threatened with death if he filed his candidacy for the governorship of Maguindanao, the incumbent of which is an Ampatuan, and that the reason his wife went to file the papers for him was that he thought they would not dare to attack women.

He learned all too soon how high the price was of losing the gamble he made.

The massacre has provoked an outcry, not only within the country, but in the international community as well. Media watchdog Reporters Sans Frontieres has already called it the worst media killing in one day in the history of journalism, because of the number of mediamen who were killed, covering what would been an ordinary news event.

Perhaps the reason why the massacre has provoked so many reactions is that it hits so deep and touches on so many nerves. The senseless and brutal gunning down of so many people for the simple reason that they were trying to exercise the right to run for office in a democracy, because they dared to challenge an incumbent in his own stronghold, is one. Another is that many of those killed were women, one of them even a pregnant woman. Still another is that among the victims were lawyers and journalists, members of professions which are by tradition to some degree entitled to protection, one for its function as mediators and negotiators, the other for its function as recorder and reporter. Yet another is that even bystanders who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time became collateral damage.

Try as I might, I cannot begin to fathom the mindset that would perpetrate and even condone the commission of such atrocities. The manner of killing, as well as the treatment of the dead bodies, by the (said to number about 100) killers, displays such contempt, such scorn towards the victims as to show that they regarded the people they killed to be nothing more than pieces of trash to be thrown out and destroyed. What sort of people are they? Are they still human, at all? What manner of environment, of upbringing, even only of personality, do they have that they can commit such things the same way a mad dog singlemindedly attacks everything in its path?

Arguing for the sake of argument without all these statements necessarily being the truth, if all the rumors were true, if Mangudadatu's allegation concerning the Ampatuans were true, if all of these were for the purpose of teaching a lesson to an "upstart" who dared to challenge the king, then the twisted rationale to the Maguindanao massacre would be this:

A politician, wishing to extend his area of influence, decides to run for office in his rival's territory, and this rival, who has so far enjoyed unlimited authority in said territory, becomes incensed at what he views as an insult to his honor. Instead, however, of letting the election process run its course, he decides to nip it off at the bud by making the first politician abandon his plan. But the former is determined; come the day of filing for candidacy, he has a brilliant idea and sends to file his papers in his stead the people who by law and tradition are entitled to protection and safe-conduct: women, ambassadors, mediators and scribes. It was a good plan; had his rival been a more reasonable person, he would have acknowledged his loss in the first round. But no, the rival's anger grows even more. How dared they? How dared this woman come here on behalf of her husband, thinking to outfox him in his own den? Very well, if she would enter the field, she would then be a player, and she would learn the price that losers pay. Let all their deaths be horrible, so that no one would dare to challenge the king again. So he orders, and so his orders are carried out.

The rival, however, forgets that his "kingdom" has long since been a part of a democracy, and that he is in that position technically not because he belongs to a clan that has long been regarded as royal, but because of the democratic processes of the country where he lives, and that any misuse and abuse of power would hold him liable for his misdeeds to the people of that country.

Even if he were made liable, he thinks, they would have to come and dig him out of his fortress first. Who would dare? After all, this is his territory and he has friends in high places. He once got them out of a tight spot; he played a key role in getting them where they are now. Let them return the favor; if he goes down, so will they.

(That's why I should be writing fiction instead. I'm good at cooking up conspiracy theories.)

A great deal of the indignation we now feel at this is fueled by what we perceive as impunity granted to these monstrous killers to murder anyone who stands in their way. It is an indignation born of the knowledge that the common man is nowhere safe, that even the legal processes meant to protect them may also be their downfall if they do not have the money or influence to protect their rights. That it is always easy for one to earn a place in a cage when he is sufficiently non-entity enough. That on the other hand, one who deserves to be put in a cage can always avoid it or walk out of it at will if he had the money or influence. It is an indignation born of the realization that even monsters can go on a killing spree in broad daylight and their identities will be protected if they have the money and the influence with those who think they're the ones who matter. That in the end, the laws and legal processes of a democracy only work for the elite and not for the common man for whose benefit and protection they were originally intended and on whose backs, on whose sweat and toil, these elite built their empires.

It is an indignation that grows even more every time we read or hear words like these:

"Under the current government, the Philippines has become the most dangerous place in the world for media workers. At least 74 journalists have been killed during its eight-year tenure, yet the government has not acted to end the culture of impunity. At last count, only four convictions had been secured..."
(Being a journalist: one of the most dangerous jobs in the world.)

"an incident between two families in Mindanao... We cannot be affected by that… This has nothing to do with President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo or the administration... If the public would know that we are sincere and that we are doing our best to give justice to the victims, I think that would vindicate us in case there would be impressions later on.”
(Why do you need vindication?)

“We don’t have full control of the situation on the ground, mortals as we are."

"If we use the iron hand on them, they might fight back. We should take precaution. These are not ordinary people."
(Weren't you quick to use the "iron hand" against the MILF and the Abu Sayyaf? Didn't the government fall all over its own feet to declare an "all-out war" in Mindanao? What makes these people different? Why are you so afraid that they will fight back?)

In the end, all we have are rumors that refuse to be substantiated, and this sorrow, anger, indignation and frustration that refuses to be assuaged. Wanna bet that after a while, all this will die down, and people will refuse to remember anymore... until the next, more horrific massacre occurs? And meanwhile the underlying problems continue, and the impunity remains.

This entry was posted at Thursday, November 26, 2009 and is filed under , , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .

6 people cared

The tragedy that happened in Maguindanao certainly deserves the attention of the people. The brutal slaying of innocents and the inhumane treatment to which they were made to suffer before finally sending them to their deaths are unspeakable crimes that should move this nation to deep thinking and ultimately to action. There are no words to describe the atrocities done here.
I love my country, but i can't help to hate its people sometimes.

November 26, 2009 at 3:03 PM

It's easy to understand why the government is treading carefully in Maguindanao. After all, the Ampatuans delivered a lock, stock and barrel votes to GMA during last elections, they might know a controversial thing or two about GMA during last elections ;)

November 26, 2009 at 4:20 PM

Dapat managot ang managot, pero sakin, hindi ko sa kinakampihan ang Ampatuan, pero sana lawakan natin ang isipan natin, Maaring conspiracy ito, Parang scripted nah ito, pedeng iba ang gumawa nito, na may mas malakng pakay o adhakain, paraan para takpan isang malaking sikreto, maaring absolute power pah, kayamanan, o isang rason din ito isang malawakang pang kaguluhan, lumang tugtugin na ito, nangyari sa kasayasayn ni Hitler, Mao Tsetung, at Marcos, para maging daan sa isang pang malaking pakay, upang makuha ang adhikain nila.

November 27, 2009 at 1:03 AM

Hi, Child of Earth:

Thank you for your strong and brave article. You must know that I was deeply touched down to my core after reading your unprecedented account of the horror. You left no details unturned. Excellent!

My tears just fall profusely for all the victims, especially all the women whose private parts were mutilated while they were still alive. The horror, the pain, the sheer thought that you were lying there on the dirt in broad daylight, with all these men inflicting all these indignation to your body.

I just hope to God that all of them are captured asap and sentence to electric chair. I also wish that they all burn in hell for all eternity.

I am so upset. I can't begin to imagine the worst pain that these innocent women endured from the hands of these animals.

I know, the victims are all crying for justice from their cold graves.

To all the families and loved ones of the victims, my sincerest condolence and deepest sympathy in this most difficult times.


Lovely Soul
Writer @divinecaroline.com
Paris, France

November 27, 2009 at 6:55 AM

This article should be posted on BUZZ UP YAHOO for world-wide readership.

The whole International community must be informed of the unprecedented horror happening in this part of the Philippines.

All because someone wants to file his Certificate of Candidacy for a public office. Many innocent people including members of the media were massacred by someone who wants to hold on to his office.

The victims must not die in vain.

Lovely Soul

November 27, 2009 at 7:02 AM

Thank you all for your comments.

@hitchhiker: The sad thing is, it had to take a tragedy like this to turn people's attention to the situation in the place. :( Yeah, I feel the same way about the love/hate thing sometimes.

@Erle: I was thinking the same thing too. Especially as after I'd posted this, I read several articles saying that Mangudadatu was actually being offered money and positions in government so he will give up his intention to run. It makes me speculate on the reasons why some people want the Ampatuans to hold Maguindanao at all costs.

@Renato: Aha, more conspiracy theories. I was thinking along the same lines; maybe I'll put them in another post. As fiction, of course. ;)

@Lovely Soul: Thank you both for your comments and your sympathy. Let us hope (and we hope to work towards) that such a thing does not happen again, or go unpunished.

November 27, 2009 at 9:41 AM

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