Frankenstein begets Frankenstein
The declaration of martial law in Maguindanao is not the answer to the cry for justice for the victims of the November 23 massacre allegedly perpetrated by top local government officials allied to the Arroyo regime -- all members of the warlord Ampatuan clan – utilizing soldiers, police and paramilitary forces under their command. It is in fact a grand cover-up for the complicity and criminal culpability of the ruling Arroyo-Ermita-Gonzalez clique in this horrendous crime.
At first Malacañang tried to distance itself from the Maguindanao massacre by decrying it as an “act of inhumanity” and vowing that the perpetrators would not escape justice. But its initial slow response in collaring the main suspects, disarming the local security forces cum private armies of the Ampatuans and kid gloves treatment of its erstwhile most reliable political allies in Muslim Mindanao raised a howl of protest amid fears of an impending whitewash.
A coalition of media organizations, the November 23 Movement, including mainstream groups that ordinarily would be apolitical if not pro-government by default, issued a strikingly censorious statement that ended with a call for the Arroyo government to step down if it is incapable of rendering justice in this unspeakable crime.
Internationally, the Arroyo regime was put on the spot to prove its capacity and determination to impose the rule of law in a province where the members of the Ampatuan political dynasty have been a law unto themselves. The Ampatuans have been aided and abetted by a regime that looked the other way as the warlords raided the public coffers, engaged in illicit activities like gun-running and drugs-dealing, armed themselves to-the-teeth and ruled with an iron hand keeping themselves in power year after year while physically eliminating all they considered a threat to their dominion over the province and outlying areas.
The local overlords in Maguindanao had become a Frankenstein out of control.
The credibility of the central government already in tatters and public opinion running high, the Arroyo regime had to demonstrate it would run after the Ampatuans and their armed followers hammer and thongs and bring them to heel. Thus, Mrs. Arroyo declared martial law in Maguindanao.
It didn’t matter that the Ampatuan horde could by no stretch of the imagination be passed off as “rebels”. The Arroyo regime is capitalizing on the near universal demand for the perpetrators to be caught and punished in order to justify its flagrant flouting of the law.
The framers of the 1987 post-Marcos Dictatorship Constitution had placed safeguards to prevent another would-be tyrant from manufacturing a scenario of “imminent rebellion” to declare martial law. Thus only the existence of an actual rebellion or invasion could merit such a presidential declaration.
Not a few have pointed out that the two bona fide “rebellions” currently existing – that led by the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army and the other by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front – have not merited the imposition of martial rule, not even in their acknowledged strongholds.
And while government has been charging NPA fighters –and now, unarmed activists -- with all sorts of common crimes instead of political crimes like sedition or rebellion thereby criminalizing political offenses, the Arroyo regime is now doing the opposite with the Ampatuans, politicizing patently heinous crimes such as mass murder.
One need not be a legal or constitutional expert to see that this is first and foremost a scheme to let the Ampatuans-- and the Arroyo gang -- off the hook. Instead of prosecuting the Ampatuans with premeditated mass murder, rape, illegal possession of firearms and explosives, and who knows what other horrific crimes would be uncovered by an honest-to-goodness investigation, the culprits will now be charged and in all likelihood acquitted for the lesser crime of rebellion.
What many cannot comprehend is where the Arroyo clique gets the gall to think it can get away with this gross disregard for, perversion and even trampling of the laws of the land, not to mention all norms of decency and morality.
It was the Marcos dictatorship that first institutionalized the culture of impunity and the twisting of laws to suit one's drive for unbridled power and wealth. After all, justice has yet to be rendered to human rights victims under the Marcos regime. For one, the masterminds behind the Aquino assassination were never identified, much less prosecuted and punished; the Aquino government only got the small fry and the fall guys.
Subsequent regimes with their trappings of democracy likewise committed human rights violations especially against progressives and other perceived critics, threats and members of the opposition. But not in the scale and intensity which we now experience under the nine-year rule of Mrs. Arroyo.
And throughout this succession of regimes, the government of the United States of America has been more than a silent and acquiescent observer. The fact is that the US has been fully supportive of these so-called democratic regimes’ use of bloody counter-insurgency programs and heightened political repression to stamp out the people’s resistance so long as these serve its economic and geopolitical interests. From colonial times, the US has systematically built and nurtured a political infrastructure it could dominate and control, and most specially, a police and armed force dependent on it for training, logistics, intelligence, orientation and direction.
Indeed it is from the US that the Arroyo clique gets its cues on how much mayhem it can inflict on the people without fearing reprisals or reprimands from its principal backer. The US, while posturing as a champion of human rights and international law, does not think twice about violating the same when it comes to pursuing its Superpower agenda. The so-called war on terror brought its dismal record to unprecedented depths, with the US imposing its military might to provide its forces the license to violate international law and human rights with impunity.
Thus, Filipinos cannot look to the US to prevail on the Arroyo clique to render real justice to victims of the Maguindanao massacre, to restrain its use of draconian measures such as martial law, and much less move to ensure Mrs. Arroyo does not perpetuate herself in power.
Twenty three years ago, it was People Power that finally delivered the message that Marcos had to go. In the case of the Arroyo clique, it will also be the cry for truth, justice and an end to impunity from an enraged and united people that will finally put an end to its monstrous and hated rule. #
*Published in Business World
11-12 December 2009