Last week, we were stopped at a checkpoint while driving to the provincial capital for a doctor’s appointment.
Nothing new about that: We had a lot of checkpoints awhile back, when there was a move to find the last few NPA members who hadn’t come in from the cold and become normal “militant” activists.
But this checkpoint was for guns, and it is part of the preparations for the next election.
You see, despite the “left versus evil capitalist” type of reporting that keeps track of the “extrajudicial” murders here against left wing activists, human rights group members, and reporters, what you don’t see reported is the ordinary political murders that are the real danger of running for office in the Philippines.
It is not so much about ideology as money. The clan/family that runs the government can skim money off the business contracts and development aid that is doled out to the provinces.
In the provinces, winning an election means protecting one’s turf. And sometimes it means threats and worse, well, that’s the dirty little secret of politics in the Philippines.
In our town, the Nueva Ecija journal reports that local cops are being shuffled to other jobs at the same time the gun ban was imposed.
Presumably this is only a routine change of jobs, but the more suspicious might think this is so that those who might have taken bribes not to search certain cars will now find themselves in an area where they aren’t paid to look the other way.
But if you skim down the headlines of January you find other hints of problems: the cousin of one small town mayor was killed, the killer of a neighborhood association president has been arrested, a head of the neighborhood watch shot…and if you read the local news section of our papers, nearly every day you will hear of a politician or a politician’s rival or a watchdog or a reporter or an activist being murdered.
Does the gun ban help? No, nothing short of confiscating weapons of the bodyguards and private armies of the politicians will do that.
The shoot out in 2007 in Jaen is an example of that. From GMA News.
The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) joined Friday the investigation into the bloody shootout between the groups of Nueva Ecija 4th District Rep. Rodolfo W. Antonino and former Jaen Mayor Antonio Esquivel.
The encounter Thursday night left a municipal councilor candidate and a policeman in the town dead and many others wounded, including Esquivelâ€™s two sons.
So just take the guns away from the body guards, right? Or let the cops know if someone thinks they might be killed.
On the other hand, our nephew, an innocent bystander, was killed during the hit job against a politician a couple years ago, and the murderers were ex NPA members who needed the money, not the bodyguards of the politician who will remain nameless since although he is indicted, he remains free while his wife runsÂ for mayor.
There are half hearted tries to stop the clan violence, but you have to remember that business here is run via family and friend ties, not via civil service. And if you eliminate the clans, you might not get anyone who knows how to run things.
Quick: Who do you want? A person who improves the area, brings in jobs and money to help people live comfortably, but who skims of ten percent of everything, or do you want an honest nincompoop who tries his best but runs into the laws of economics?
What might turn a spotlight onto the clan/crime/political operatives in the provinces is the Manguindanao massacre, where a politician’s family, some lawyers, some human rights activists, and 30 reporters were massacred when the wife went to register her husband as a candidate for local governor.
There is a lot of finger pointing about the murders, not the least of which is because the governor, whose son was suspected as the mastermind of the massacre, is a good friend of our lovely President.
From the Philippine Inquirer Politics page:
…Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro had cautioned Mangudadatu against contesting the governorship.
â€œIâ€™m not sure what else ought to have been done,â€ Olivar (a deputy spokesperson of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo) said.
He added: â€œAt the end of the day, it was the decision of the candidate if he would proceed with his candidacy based on the information he had received.â€
But of course Mangudadatu had received death threats, and was denied government protection. If he had sent his own armed body guards, then the murderers would have claimed self defense, similar to the Jaen shootings.
So Mangudadatu tried a third way, sending his wife with witnesses. The result was the murder of fifty plus innocent civilians presumably by those who thought they were above the law.
Ah, but why did the murderers think they were above the law?
StrategyPage has a good summary on how the government is trying to lower the election violence this year, when the country is due to choose a new President.
By one count, there are 132 armed militias (containing over 10,000 gunmen) run by powerful politicians (who also tend to be local business magnates.)…Powerful politicians are already maneuvering to prevent the disarmament of their bodyguard and militias. Many of these powerful see the preservation of their militias as a matter of life or death for themselves and their families.
Alas, too true.
Which is probably why when we arrived at a relative’s birthday party last month, we found two armed men in fatigues outside the house monitoring the traffic and visitors, and presumably another one inside at the side of the politician who had been invited to the party.
Better to be safe than sorry.
Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines. Her webpage is Finest Kind Clinic and Fishmarket.