Ateneo PolSci Bloggers


In History, Philippine Issues, Politics on November 28, 2009 at 10:51 pm

An Attack on Freedom

The brutal massacre of at least sixty-four individuals in Ampatuan, Maguindanao brings to the fore the vastly ignored problem of endemic political violence in Philippine elections. It has brought to light, once more, the grave danger of a culture of warlordism in the context of weak state presence – a culture that relies on impunity and uses fear as its main currency. The loss of sixty-four lives in Maguindanao opens our eyes to the reality of the state of the Philippine nation today – a reality that begs us to peer closer into the delicate socio-political structures that make up our country.

The ASSEMBLY calls for solidarity in view of the great tragedy that beset us on the twenty third of November THE ASSEMBLY calls for solidarity in grief for the departed but moreover in their call for justice. Not only for the sixty-four who just recently lost their lives, but for all those whose lives were wasted in the name of power and privilege.

It is but only fitting that a citizenry demand nothing less from its government than the maintenance of peace and the pursuit of communal good. It is nothing less than just that the Filipino nation demands that, in this pursuit of peace and freedom, those who trespassed the lines that delineate our basic human morals should be held accountable – it is only proper that those who are responsible for the Ampatuan Massacre be brought to face the consequences of their base act of violating human life and dignity at an unimaginable scale. It is only proper that the Filipino community begins this struggle for justice from hereon – a struggle to recognize the human reality of our nation’s politics; whether it be the reality of its misinterpretation, abuse, or the lack thereof.

The Question of Violence in Mindanao

In light of the confusion brought about by the events of the twenty third of November, the great debate of the Moro state has once again come into question – a debate which THE ASSEMBLY deems as a misunderstanding with regards to the political and social situation in Mindanao, Maguindanao in particular. The ASSEMBLY deems it prudent, that in order to avoid a sordid repetition of the grave acts committed in the debate, there should be a proper inspection into the structures upon which our politics is founded.

First and foremost, the ASSEMBLY rejects persistent claims that the eruption of violence in Mindanao is an issue that finds roots in the socio-cultural and ethnic “nature” of politics in Mindanao, particularly in the provinces of the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). Instead, we affirm that this recent outburst has less to deal with Islamist radicalism, Pan-Islamic nationalism or inherent socio-cultural traditions than with the lack of strong state presence in the region. This lack of strong state presence finds roots in the delicate yet flawed structure employed by governments past in their pursuit of taming the violence in Mindanao. The promotion of local warlords as means by which central government could neutralize elements that pose a threat to national security has brought forth a sense of traditional politics that finds sole meaning in the existence of local strongmen who had been anointed to control the region with an iron fist.

This problem stems further, into the first years of American colonialism when differentiation was established to alienate the Moro people in an effort to employ imperialistic “divide and conquer” methods. This alienation between Mindanao and the rest of the Philippines vis-a-vis the imprudent disregard of socio-cultural contexts upon the settling of Mindanao continued to create a volatile mix that erupted first with the tensions brought about by state-sponsored terror during the Marcos era and the ensuing emergence of separatist movements. The mass shedding of blood that occurred later on, and the problems raised by the proposition of alternatives posited by groups like the MILF and the MNLF has driven the state to promote inadequate responses to these alternatives – instead of development-oriented solutions, administration after administration has turned to a policy protracted war: be it diplomatic relations or all-out war, the premise of “the Mindanao Question” lies in the reified existence of conflict postulates. This, buttressed by the locally-employed warlords who have been rewarded important political posts in exchange of their support. The failure of the state to recognize the unique situation in Mindanao, in the years after the monumental signing of the 1996 GRP-MNLF peace agreement under President Fidel Ramos, can be considered its greatest blunder.

The state’s policy of reliance on local warlords like the Ampatuans is reflected by directives issued by Malacanang itself that give local officials freedom to deputize and arm civilian volunteers as “force multipliers” in the effort to combat insurgency[1] – at a basic level, the state has given local leaders free reign in forming private militias. The central government’s hands-off policy, has clearly worked towards a catastrophic end – the likes of which we bore witness to, when these “force multipliers” were supposedly utilized in the systematic murder of the warlord’s enemies.

It was the failure of the state to establish its presence by means that do not follow the way of the gun that enabled violence of this scale. Further, it is in the acknowledgement and the promotion of fear and terror as a means of pacification that violence naturally follows. The warlords of Mindanao, and for that matter, warlords in general shall continue to have personal discretion over the lives of their constituents for as long as they receive anointment from Manila – for as long as the State continues to delegate its duties. These warlords will continue to strike with impunity as long as the state refuses to establish itself firmly in the effort to secure the welfare of the people and in promoting freedom and peace throughout the countryside.

Responsible Citizenship

The ASSEMBLY further calls for responsible citizenship in deference to the need to express ourselves in the greater fight for justice for the victims of political violence. The heroism exhibited by many among us after the onslaught of natural catastrophes should differ not from our call for justice. Despite the distance, it should be our prerogative to continue to be affected, to never cease to be disturbed. Our situation as students can never be considered as one of hopelessness – avenues by which the student population can direct its passions are more than self-evident. Concrete solutions need not be contained within the dispersal of relief goods, the creative and non-violent expression of opinion may seem abstract but it can be as concrete as an effort to clean-up mud-stricken streets – the effect of a demand for justice by a united society can be as far-reaching as any “concrete” mobilization to help our countrymen in a time of grave need. It is through responsible citizenship that the power of the state is checked, and continuously perused – a dormant and docile citizenry enables the same kind of violence that erupted in Mindanao. An irresponsible citizenry can be held just as accountable as an excessive or impotent state.

In line with the call for a citizenry that responsibly checks the power of the state, the ASSEMBLY also asks for this duty at the most foundational of all levels – we respect the common good, the dignity of life and the diversity of cultures and society. Responsible citizenship begins with this adherence to the principles of human morality, driven by respect and deference to the opinions, beliefs and creeds of others. It is this mutual respect that shapes the contours of our freedom and defines the meaning of our democracy. Our Republic is founded on the basic principle that all men are after all, created equal, that it is in our diversity that we are one. Responsible citizenship extends into our individual ability to live peacefully among people of different socio-cultural contexts. Freedom is founded in a responsible citizenry’s ability to admit that in the midst of our individual differences, we can live co-equally and peaceably under the umbrella of a nation that stands indivisible despite adversity.

The Divorce from the Political

The gravest mistake one can commit from concluding upon the causes and effects of the Ampatuan massacre is that, this sole act of human indignity stems from the political. If anything, the violence that occurred on the twenty third of November was caused by the separation from the political. It was the absence of freedom in the context of a true democracy that caused the sudden and wanton eruption of violence. It was the misunderstanding of the political realm that created distortions that allowed the state and its warlord allies to enable their destructive relationship. It was the divorce from the political that allowed warlords to strike with impunity, knowing well that there will be no repercussions – thriving on the assumption no one would care about whatever they intended to do regardless of the audacity, of the brazenness, of the sheer barbarity of their act. Politics did not cause the Ampatuan massacre, it was the lack of politics, the divorce from the political and the reification of a politics understood to be pestiferous and preponderant, subsequently abandoned for liberal pleasures – a culture of diffidence that permeates the Philippine political structure. In the words of Edmund Burke, All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.


Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam





[1] Executive Order 546 series of 2006

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