13 December 2009

Martial Law in Maguindanao

Saturday, December 12, 2009

After Martial Law in Maguindanao, What?

Deeply rooted in Maguindanao is a culture of dominant clan power. A false reading of the situation results in a truncated view of Maguindanao political history. This view sees the phenomenon as the product of one government period, the decade of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Arguably a greater share of the blame could be laid at the door of the present government. But the culture of dominant and changing local power has been with us in the once “empire province of Cotabato,” which included the present Maguindanao, since at least the 1950s. To my knowledge, no government from the 1950s to the present did anything serious to root this out. In the past 60 years, all governments and many politicians from all parties wanting to get votes have cultivated this culture and ignored the periodic violence that erupted. It was a case of mutual political exploitation and expediency. We ourselves, ordinary citizens, have kept quiet in the past 60 years and learned the art of accommodation.

But of course criticism of Martial Law in Maguindanao is really based on total distrust of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Survey after survey is paraded to say that this is the pulse of the people. The stand of small protesting “militant” groups is given disproportionate media exposure. Political oppositionists and personalities from “militant” organizations are interviewed again and again to give their expected negative views on actions of government. In a very real sense the extraordinary amount of media exposure that is given to the opposition in Manila provides a distorted view of the country as a whole...

Martial Law by its nature as a last resort should be of short duration. But precisely because of its brevity, the following will result: one clan will be significantly disarmed; the balance of political and armed power will shift to other clans; private armies will remain though possibly less visible and probably more sophisticated in behavior; the deep trauma resulting from the massacre will persist; rido is not going to be stopped; the legislative, justice, and executive--and electoral--mechanisms will still be in the hands of those related to or have debts of gratitude to various families; and if a member of the rival clan will somehow gain the top post of the province, do we in Maguindanao really believe that the provincial capitol will remain in Shariff Aguak? Even the peace process will be affected by the loyalties of local rebel commanders to their own clans. Hence, the fundamental dysfunctions in Maguindanao will remain after Martial Law.

What do I see as a possible solution? Even now sentiments are strong in Central and southern Mindanao that elections for local offices in Maguindanao should be deferred. Or at least the term of Martial Law should be extended till after the elections. The fundamental suggestion is for us to move forward from partisan political criticism to collective constructive thinking and effective action on this central issue of Maguindanao dysfunction. I respectfully address this to all concerned, particularly the Senate, House of Representatives, the judicial branch and the Arroyo administration, as well as to all of us Maguindanawons.

+Orlando B. Quevedo, O.M.I.
Archbishop of Cotabato
December 11, 2009

01 December 2009

Private armies and the insurgency

By Alex Magno
(The Philippine Star)
Updated November 28, 2009 12:00 AM

The standing estimate is that the Ampatuan clan has 800 men (!) under arms. That virtual army is maintained largely at the expense of the state. Government armed and paid allowances to most of these men: a private army operating under the cover of “civilian volunteers” useful for containing the insurgency in the region.

Until this chilling tragedy (in Maguindanao) happened, the authorities found the arrangement concerning “civilian volunteers” a largely functional one. A trade-off was adopted early in the game, many presidencies ago.

Since the AFP did not have enough men and equipment to effectively contain the armed secessionist groups in the area, the “civilian volunteers” functioned as force extenders. In the case of Maguindanao, the “civilian volunteers” were very useful. They kept the MILF trapped in the Maranao areas, with the Maguindanao-speaking areas relatively free of insurgents.

There is a price to pay for that: government tacitly condoned warlords who did their best to contribute to suppressing the insurgency. This has been the unspoken arrangement since the days when these “civilian volunteers” were called BSDUs and then CAFGUs.

The “civilian volunteers” in Maguindanao province provided a crucial buffer, keeping the insurgent groups away from the productive plantations, tuna industries and bustling urban economies to the south. The occasional abuses committed by the warlords, until this week, were a small price to pay for the strategic role of keeping the Maguindanao area and those to the south of the province free of insurgency.

In a way, government had little choice. There was not enough money to enlarge the army so that it achieves an effective ratio of superiority over the secessionist guerrilla forces and the isolated communist gangs. “Civilian volunteers” might be a band-aid solution to a strategic vulnerability, but it was the best that could be done.

This is the complex structure of considerations underpinning Gibo Teodoro’s statement that the only way we can get rid of private armies is to enlarge the army. That is a statement made boldly and frankly — even at the risk of many voters failing to get the point.

Gibo Teodoro should know what the complex considerations are. He served an exemplary two years as defense secretary.

The warlords were not about to squander the leverage they enjoyed. They used the private armies to consolidate their local power bases and occasionally pleased their patrons in Manila by delivering votes in their favor. Still, the existence of these private armies is a by-product of a strategic vulnerability of the state, not just the administration.

Until we have enough money to invest in greater military capability to contain a well-armed insurgent movement, we will have to rely on the cheap repressive labor contributed by “civilian volunteers” organized by local warlords...

But something truly disastrous has happened. The arrangement will now have to be abrogated. What that means is that the civilian volunteer groups need to be disbanded, the offending local tyrants made to face the full weight of the law, and the military, although already thinly spread out, must be redeployed to cover the vacuum...

In the wake of this tragedy, the only guys who have anything to cheer about are the insurgent groups and their allied criminal and terrorist gangs. That is the greatest misfortune of this whole thing.