November 23rd is now etched in the history of the Philippines as the day of shameless ignominy. On that day, a convoy of women of the Mangudadatu clan accompanied by media people and their women lawyers headed for the provincial capitol in Sharif Aguak municipality was stopped by forces of the Philippine National Police.
These police forces were accompanied by hundreds of armed civilian volunteer organizations (under the command of the PNP) along the national highway in Ampatuan municipality.
The convoy was instructed to take the farm road leading to a deep hole meant to be the mass grave of the entire convoy members, including occupants of other vehicles that happened to follow the convoy.
It all began three weeks ago with a Commission on Elections Resolution directing the transfer of the Comelec Satellite Office from Cotabato City to the Provincial Capitol in Maguindanao.
Then another resolution was issued, this time directing all candidates in the province to file their certificates of candidacy at the provincial ‘capitol.’
Anyone in the place knows that the said resolutions follow the logic of the local politics and the control over the Comelec on the ground.
Comelec cannot feign ignorance of these realities nor washes its hands in the ensuing massacre in Maguindanao.
The reason is definitely politics in the shifting of ‘capitol’ sites in the province. There is a need to locate the ‘capitol’ in a place to ensure total control.
For this reason, Maguindanao can qualify to put the capitol building on wheels.
It began in Cotabato City; then Datu Udtog moved it to Pagalungan; post-Datu Udtog, it was moved back to Cotabato City; then it was moved to Maganoy (Sharif Aguak); Zacaria Candao moved it back to Cotabato City; then he moved it to a new site in Sultan Kudarat.
The Ampatuan moved the ‘capitol’ back to Maganoy where it now stands.
The total control of the capitol ensures absolute control over all government machineries in the capitol site, including the Comelec, the PNP, and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).
Everybody in town is actually surprised by this challenge coming from the four Mangudadatu young, daring, and dazzling brothers (two mayors, one vice mayor and one assemblyman of the Regional Assembly of the ARMM).
The leader of the clan and the main challenger is the present Vice Mayor of Buluan, Datu Ismael ‘Toto’ Mangudadatu.
The challenge came as a big surprise, because the Ampatuan clan is ‘intimately’ connected to President Gloria Arroyo and the Lakas-Kampi-CMD Party both in 2004 and 2007 national elections.
The challenge emerged when talks that the ‘senior’ Ampatuan is no longer qualified to run as governor of the province. The name of the ‘junior’
Ampatuan has begun to surface as the clan bet for who they thought would run for the uncontested governorship in the province come May 2010.
The relationship between Arroyo and the Ampatuans hinged on a symbiosis of political and electoral interests and as demonstrated by the clan’s ‘outstanding’ delivery capacity in all electoral exercises held in the province of Maguindanao. Political parties and candidates also refer to the entire ARMM as ‘captive’ electorate. This is not a simple perception but the ‘actual ballot’ counts’ attest to this ‘winner take all’ elections. No doubt, if electoral anomalies happen, the people who manage and secure the elections are equally controlled.
The Comelec resolution transferring its satellite office in Sharif Aguak and the requirement to file the certificates of candidacy in the ‘capitol’ is NOT as innocent as it looks unless Comelec were born yesterday!
This Comelec decision has forced the Mangudadatu to go into the heartland of the Ampatuan clan. The Vice Mayor Toto Mangudadatu decided to go and file his certificate of candidacy. But he was prevailed upon by the mother to let the women do the filing. The clan believed that Toto’s presence in Aguak may lead to actual bloodshed. The mother and the religious leaders thought that an all-women delegation accompanied by media people and women lawyers would be respected.
As a double insurance for the delegation, the Mangudadatu has asked for police escorts from the PNP Provincial command. It refused to do so.
Understanding the perceived partisanship of the Maguindanao PNP, the clan asked for military escort from the 601st Brigade that has an operational responsibility for area. They were told that the AFP does not provide security escorts for politicians. They were assured by the highest military command that the ‘road is safe and there will be no need to worry.’
With that assurance, the all-women delegation began the trek to Sharif Aguak.
Upon crossing Salman along the national highway in broad daylight in Ampatuan municipality, the convoy was stopped,
Their journey was halted by hundreds of armed groups believed to be CVOs [civilian volunteer organizations] that included some provincial PNP officials and a local mayor positively identified by the Mangudadatu. The entire convoy was led to an open pit dug by provincial engineering equipment.
There the carnage began with brutality and no mercy for women, children, and the members of the media. The last vehicle in the convoy, delayed by few minutes, saw the whole gang that stopped the convoy and made positive identification. It turned back with speed and asked for help. But alas, the help came too late. There were no survivors!
The first count was 21 fatalities in the afternoon of the same day. These were the bodies left on the ground and in the vehicles because of the haste.
The second day, the body count reached 46 as investigators began to dig the mass graves. On the third day, the number has reached more than 60. They were all murdered with so much brutality that can only be compared to victims of savage animals in the wild. The digging continues and the body counts continue to rise. The Mangudadatu can only account for 40 members of their convoy.
Beyond that number were innocent passers-by who happened to be travelling the same road at that particular moment. These innocent passers-by include children! They buried the whole vehicles with the murdered passengers. Seemingly, the intent was to bury all the vehicles and all the victims in that big hole dug by the provincial ‘backhoe.’
But there was news that the troops were coming. This made the perpetrators to hurriedly leave the scene without completing their evil intent.
Today, the people of Maguindanao and Cotabato City continue to be in a state of total disbelief whenever they hear news about the massacre as it continues to unfold.
Knowing the close ties between President Arroyo and the Ampatuan, the Presidency and the national government are directly held accountable!
Will there be honest and objective investigation of the massacre?
While we debate over the massacre, the perpetrators and the hundreds of CVOs, bearing high-powered firearms, and identified leaders of the massacre roam freely and with impunity.