The massacre of fifty plus civilians, including 27 journalists, allegedly by a local politician attempting to eliminate an opposing candidate, has resulted in numerous arrests, and martial law being declared in that southern Philippine province.

But as the military continue their searches for perpetrators and digging up hidden weapons, a lot of other things are  being exposed to public view, and it has implications for the entire Philippines.

First of all, there is a lot of opposition to “martial law”, even a limited declaration of it. The abuses of martial law under the Marcos regieme still holds bad memories of how it was used to arrest or eliminate leftist opponants of the ruling party.

To allow martial law to continue, the Congress has to vote on it. But yesterday, when the emergency session was held, a very important witness was missing: Where is the President? the headlines of the Philippine Inquirer blared.

Even the pro administration Manila Bulletin has the headline saying 161 gumen have been identified, but in the print version of the newspaper, right under it is a photo of an ax held up by an activist,asking Who will be next?

A lot of this is political hype, but a lot of it is a way to warn the President not to extend her powers by widening the imposition of marshal law.

The problem in Maguindanao can be linked to the President, since the accused perpetrators belonged to her party.

In the Philippines, clans have always run the provinces; as education and prosperity have changed the culture, the clan ties have weakened, but still are strong among Muslims in the south.

StrategyPage explains that the government would back the “strongest” clan, allowing them to run the place. In this case, it allowed the Ampatuans to control the area, with the agreement that they would oppose the MILF, the Muslim insurgents who didn’t put down their arms in the 1990’s but are in peace talks with the government:

Disarming the clans will change the balance of power in the south, as the MILF militias are still armed, and ready to take advantage of pro-government militias that kept them in check, and are soon to be disarmed. Overall, however, the southern provinces would be better off with warlords and their clan based militias gone. These forces often engage in criminal behavior to sustain themselves, and clan leaders use their gunmen to coerce voters and maintain political power.

An example of this has come to light in the last few days. Numerous weapon stashes have been discovered, in warehouses, buried, or in homes. Not all these weapons were authorized to go to the civilian militias run by the local government. The president is shocked, shocked at the finding, and she has ordered an investigation on who diverted military supplies to the clan controlled local militias.

And then there was another find that made eyebrows go up. Thousands of voter ID’s found buried in the ground with the illegal weapons of the Ampatuans private militia.

Lt. Col. Michael Samson, spokesperson of the Armed Forces of the Philippines in Maguindanao, said it would be premature to link the recovery of the voter’s IDs to the alleged fraud in the past two national elections in the province.

Finally, although human rights organizations have lamented the imposition of martial law, they admit that the presence of the military is making witnesses to other murders to come forth.

Known as the Davao Death Squad, the group of assassins – reportedly controlled by the local chief executive – is tasked to rid the city of criminal by killing them.

The New York-based Human Rights Watch said the killing style had already been copied and become a staple in neighboring municipalities of Digos, Tagum, and General Santos City. [See: Squad killers’ cleansing spree spreads out of Davao – HRW]

It is alleged that over 200 other “extrajudicial murders” have occurred in the area that need to be investigated.


Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines. Her website is Finest Kind Clinic and Fishmarket.

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