2 more wounded in Tagum land dispute; LGU and local police finally step in

Government officials have finally stepped in to avert further bloodshed in the Tagum City land dispute between agrarian reform beneficiaries and Lapanday Foods Corp, after two more farmers were wounded in an attack the corporation’s guards today.

The latest outbreak of violence brings to nine the number of farmers injured since beneficiaries asserted on December 9 their claim to land already awarded by the DAR and the regional trial court.

Wounded were Randy Rana and another farmer, surnamed Patindol, who were among seven members standing guard over field workers harvesting crop and then slashing down banana trees.

Aides of Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) Secretary Rafael Mariano, who is issuing a cease and desist order today against Lapanday, and the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) have been coordinating since rthe initial outbreak of violence last Dec. 12.

Soon after word of the second attack broke, the DILG issued orders to local officials, prompting aid for beleaguered farmers.

In a telephone interview, Tagum Mayor Allan L Rellon, who reached the site around 10 am, said he had ordered the local police to disarm the guards.

Rellon also said he would put up a “command incident center” to prevent further violence.

Renante Mantos, chairperson of Hugpong Sa Mga Mag-uuma sa Walhog Compostela (Humawac), the alliance of farmer cooperatives from the Tagum barangays of Madaum and San Isidro said, also in a phone interview, that local cops had initially refused to step in because the incident happened on private land.

He said both incidents were premeditated and without provocation from farmers.

Rellon said his office had attempted a dialogue in the city hall with the chief of police and provincial agrarian reform officials. He said it did not push through because farmers’ representatives would not leave their camp site on the disputed land.

Mantos said leaders wanted farmers to listen to the dialogue and they could not abandon the land because the armed guards would move in.

Read: Tagum shooting shows land conflicts still root of PH unrest

MARBAI agrarian reform beneficiaries have harvested and slashed down around five hectares of banana crop, saying they would use the land for a vegetable farm to augment the food needs of their families. (Photo courtesy of Marbai Beneficiaries)

Slashed trees: Marbai representatives have  harvested and slashed down around five hectares of banana crop, saying they would plant the cleared land with vegetable crops to augment the food needs of 159 families.

Farmers were cutting down banana trees when guards of Lapanday’s security agency, ACDISA, attacked this morning, according to Mantos.

Mantos said farmers had slashed at least five hectares of banana plantations yesterday.

“The guards would not let us farm and harvest in peace so we decided on an action that would also deprive them of what Lapanday wants to steal from us,” Mantos said in the local dialect.

He also said the cleared land would be rehabilitated and planted with vegetables and other crops that could augment the food needs of some 159 beneficiary families.

DAR actions

The Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) had sent a legal team and held an emergency meeting after the first shooting incident last December 12.

It immediately ordered regional and provincial executives to probe the incident and file cases against some 20 perpetrators, led by the head guard only identified by his surname, Vicente.

Lawyer Jobert Pahilha, legal consultant for DAR Secretary Rafael Mariano, said officials would also file today with DARAB (adjudication board) Davao del Norte a motion for Execution of the May 12, 2016 order of installation and to Supervise Harvest.

Provincial Agrarian Reform Adjudicator (PARAD) Jose Nilo Tillano issued a ruling in December 2015 for the Marbai members to be installed on the disputed 145 hectares.

“The said decision has long been final and executory but was not implemented by PARAD Tillano for one reason or another,” Pahilga said.

In October this year, impatient farmer-beneficiaries camped out in front of the Lapanday gate. Mariano had dialogued with the farmers, saying the government wanted to install them peacefully without compromising their safety and security.



Duterte’s contradictions

What’s the difference between a joke and a dirty slip showing? How do you distinguish hyperbole from a person’s genuine worldview?

In the case of the Davao strongman Rodrigo Duterte, the offensive comments come too regularly to be dismissed as careless witticism.

Credit Duterte for defending indigenous peoples hounded by henchmen of corporations out to wrest their ancestral lands. Credit him for condemning the massacre of hungry folk in Kidapawan. Praise him for wanting to expand agrarian reform to ensure farmers get the support they need. Hail his commitment to resume stalled peace talks with communist rebels and provide meaningful autonomy to the Bangsamoro.

But do not ignore Duterte’s record in justifying the killings of people he considers social pests – juvenile delinquents, addicts, pushers. 

The Davao mayor has not admitted to any extrajudicial killings. He claims the criminals killed under his direct supervision were all gunned down in battles with law enforces.  No case has been filed against Duterte for these extra-judicial killings.

His supporters stress this to debunk charges of selective justice. But there is no doubt that people have been summarily executed under Duterte’s watch.

Duterte applauded these killings, encouraged these, defended these, verbally attacked and threatened those who rang alarm bells. Human Rights Watch (HRW) has doggedly reported on this for years; its country researcher Carlos Conde has received threats for his efforts.

Duterte may not have actually pulled the trigger. But speech after speech – to cheers and ovation – Duterte, a lawyer, spits on the nation’s laws, including the Constitution, presenting murder as legitimate law enforcement policy.

Who judges the innocent?

In his April 12 rally at the Amoranto stadium, Duterte said he has never killed an innocent person. But who judges innocence or guilt? The courts do, not the mayor, not the President. To deny suspects a chance to defend themselves in court does not solve the problem of injustice.

In the same rally, Duterte expressed sympathy for the plight of the Bangsamoro.

“I have to swear to the flag. My duty to the republic is to protect everybody, including the Moro people,” he promised disappointed leaders of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

That’s impressive. But government officials swear to protect the rights of everyone, including people suspected of committing crimes.

The military routinely tramples on these rights where suspected militants are concerned, including the Lumad fighting to keep their lands free of abusive extractive industries. Officials of the Aquino government routinely justify these abuses. They are wrong. And so is Duterte in his equally selective notion of human rights.

Duterte talks about the evils of corruption, of how top leaders have made a rich, small segment of the population more equal than the rest.

digong alabang
There is no denying Rodrigo Duterte’s popularity. Whether he campaigns in Metro Manila or the provinces, the Davao strongman draws huge, ecstatic crowds.

His followers also cite the same – criminals coddled by lawmen, judges, other officials – as a reason for their impatience with legal niceties and their support for death penalty sans any check and balance, except a leader’s righteousness.

I will not disabuse them of the belief that injustice stalks the land. It does; my Facebook page is filled daily of examples, from tragi-comedy to full-blown horror.

Nor will I try to paint Davao City as the country’s crime capital. It isn’t.

But there is no excuse for murder. There is no reason on earth that justifies state-sanctioned murder.

My rights are everybody’s rights

Dutere asks, “anong mawala sa inyo kung patayin ko ang criminal?” (What would it cost you if I kill criminals?)

I have seen state security officials kill people on simple suspicion of being criminals. I have seen friends die, seen them arrested and tortured. I have seen people languish in jail even when the courts have cleared them of alleged crimes.

I cannot agree that others do not deserve the same rights I fight for, the same rights government officials are sworn to defend.

Duterte isn’t a neophyte politician. He  has had decades as local chief to provide an alternative to instant-gratification, vigilante justice.

He offers higher wages for law enforcers. They certainly need it – like the rest of the country needs it.

But Duterte should be detailing steps needed to ensure that cops and soldiers do their job right, like trainings to lessen their use of shortcuts that then lead to lost cases.

He could list steps he’s done and will do to ensure the poor – defendants and plaintiffs – are guaranteed legal aid by efficient and honest government lawyers.

He could talk about workable rehab programs for young people who fall prey to drug abuse. He could talk about imposing harsher penalties for corrupt prosecutors who throw cases, or work with citizens’ groups to keep watch on hoodlums in robes.

It’s not that he hasn’t helped drug addicts. He has, as witnessed by  Clarisse Le Neindre, who know runs a rehab facility after recovering from addiction with Duterte’s help.

Watch Le Neindre’s testimony https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Fforwardwomen2016%2Fvideos%2Fvb.1671955399731080%2F1690853824507904%2F%3Ftype%3D3&show_text=0&width=560

Why then stress shortcuts as solutions to problems? Duterte is doing people a disservice by pandering to the worst of our instant gratification tendencies.

He presents the sona – the whole-scale round up of suspected addicts and community pushers – as the swift response to the scourge of drugs. That blueprint misses the fat cats who control the entry, the manufacture and the deliveries of drugs to affected areas.

Double standards, too

duterte contractualizationDuterte says poor Filipinos will come first under his presidency. He opposes contractualization.

Yet he promises to create an enclave where foreign investors can stay safe from the reach of the country’s laws.


He personally commits to keep them safe from inconvenient truths – like the fact that workers have the right to unionize.

For all Duterte’s talk about the poor’s right to prosper, he sees the struggle for economic rights as an enemy of development. And, indeed, in his first official campaign speech, he threatened to kill labor leaders who would not heed his “appeal” for a moratorium on union work.

He banners his credentials as a dear friend to the LGBT community. By all accounts, he treats them well.

Yet he uses the word “bakla” as an insult, a synonym for “coward”.

Some gay friends who support him say they see nothing wrong with it.

If he uses it as an adjective that reflects your self-identity, there is nothing wrong with it. If you slam others for using bakla as a slur, why is Duterte suddenly exempt from those standards? His use of the word only encourages the bitter, hateful homophobia that have harmed so many of your peers.

And then there’s rape and his attitude towards women. He and his wife have a unique relationship and I will not impose my standards of fidelity on them. I must also acknowledge that, unlike ousted president Joseph Estrada, no one has charged Duterte with stealing public funds to subsidise his womanising activities.

Davao also has many pro-women policies.

And yet, he opens his mouth and something else comes out.

Duterte recently shared this tale of criminals in detention twice grabbing hostages. The second incident involved a bunch of Christian prayer warriors, including an Australian woman who was raped and then had her throat slashed, according to a report by the Chicago Tribune.

Duterte used the anecdote to stress how incorrigible some criminals are and also to show his willingness to risk life for the sake of victims.

Then he debased everything that mattered. His anger towards rape was almost secondary to dismay that criminals used the woman first before the mayor did.

He was joking? Maybe. But he also used the same line earlier in his talk.

Cops who commit crimes for personal reasons deserve to be punished, he said. He made an example of a cop who kills his mistress – especially a pretty one — and implied  the mayor should have first dibs on the beauty.

It’s not the first time he used that anecdote on the hostage-taking, ending with a similar line. Watch Noemi Dado’s video at the 38:43 marker.

You can slog through the entire Duterte speech, including some moving performances by Freddie Aguilar here.


And this admittedly moving paean to change. Which, indeed, this country needs.

We all should be outraged that the haves in this country get away with all kinds of abuses while the rest of us suffer indignities daily.

Yes, innocent people get killed and innocent people rot in jail. Hungry people are left to starve; when they protest, they die.

We all should rage.

But in cheering for Duterte’s warped logic, in playing blind to his contradictions, we might just visit more of the same on this nation.


IMELDA’S TRUTH: Martial Law returned human rights; My Ferdie, a true democrat. UPDATE LINKS TO COMPLETE SERIES


(scaRRedcat’s latest via @ABS-CBNNews)

NOT my photo. imeldamarcosfromflickerpostedatthebignm

“But there is no extravagance of beauty and love.” – Imelda Marcos at 80, quoted in the Associated Press (AP) coverage of her bash.

I wasn’t invited to that party. But in early March, 2008 I got a one-on-one with Mrs. Marcos in a condominium unit crammed with photos, clippings and paintings of a past she believes was the Philippines’ golden age. It was a sudden summons after weeks of chasing her for an interview. The result was a two-part series on “Imelda’s Truth” — photos by one very harried writer-editor.

There is no denying the Imeldific charm. It reels one in, however fierce the psyche’s resistance. So maybe I didn’t push her enough. I don’t know… but here’s the original two part series — divided into three now — where we wisely (I still think) let her ramble on rather than filter her thoughts.


“Even Mao said, ‘I love Imelda because she is so natural. And natural is perfection.’

Only Imelda Marcos of the fabled gems and gowns and shoes can don huge garish costume jewelry and have thousands of women stampeding to buy these.

Forget irony. That is lost on the former First Lady. This is the woman, after all, who’s upended every theory there is on crime and punishment.

At one point facing some 900 cases for graft — for money salting and everything and anything connected with the financial rewards of two decades of strongman rule — Mrs. Marcos has won acquittal after acquittal and, in several instances, forced the Philippine state into accepting compromise deals worth a fraction of what was being sought.

And don’t even dream of waking one day and seeing a repentant Imelda on television. She doesn’t believe there is anything to apologize for.

She and her beloved Ferdinand are the victims. EDSA I marked the death of Philippine democracy. Martial law brought back human rights. The late President Marcos not only was a true democrat; in dispatching his wife to charm Mao Tse Tung, he also single-handedly ended the Cold War.

For the latter, she says, the Marcos clan paid a high price. A jealous superpower kidnapped them at the height of the 1986 EDSA People Power revolt and dumped them in Hawaii, leaving them high and dry and, yes, penniless.

But natural law — a favorite mantra of Mr. Marcos — says life is a circle. With cosmic rays blessing the mythic couple, enemies were bound to get their comeuppance, says the Gospel of Imelda.

Mrs. Marcos won a big case on her birthday. And over lunch, she points out that the World Trade Center twin towers were bombed on Mr. Marcos’ birthday. There is no coincidence in life, says his widow.

Fiesta forever

There is plenty of the surreal in Philippines where, Imelda says, openings in the sky drizzle down rays that make for great rock and roll.

All the country’s a stage. Imelda’s advice for people waging revolutions, peaceful or otherwise: Forget it, folks. Do not even try to jolt Filipinos out of their perpetual fiesta mode. The only thing that will get them going is a love-fest. Though when they do get going, like during EDSA I, it’s because they don’t understand.

So, Joseph Estrada croons and unleashes one-liners as he walks away from conviction for plunder. And Imelda; well, Imelda was, is, and forever will be Imeldific.

Why fight it? she says with a sniff,. After all, ordinary folk from Tondo to Ilocos grow faint with ecstasy whenever she opens her arms and tells them to come home to mama.

Mama promises to share the joy represented by rooms full of gold and stock certificates, if and when those evil people tire of chasing after her beloved Ferdinand’s hard-earned wealth.

One of those ill-gotten wealth hunters had sent an emissary to Imelda, asking for P10 million to give up the chase, so he could spend the rest of life doing bad imitations of Elvis Presley.

Imelda’s reply: “Maybe my stature can coax people into coughing out P10 million but since I don’t know if I could pay back this loan, I’d be lying, a virtual thief. And Imelda doesn’t lie — or steal.”

Iron butterfly

Imelda’s flat is a kleptomaniac’s paradise. Every inch of wall and mantel space are crowded with sentimental objects d’art — the kitsch and the classic in a madcap tumble. There is so much for the eyes to follow that they fail to register that the cream walls and ceilings are beginning to turn gray.

Everywhere there is gilt. It’s apt for the widow of a man who ostensibly made his fortune in gold trading, to paint even lahar-made picture frames with gold leaf.

The public image of Mrs. Marcos is that of an imperious dowager; studied in her manners though capable of breaking out now and then into vastly entertaining theatrics.

Up close and personal and in the comfort of her sprawling Makati flat — Mrs. Marcos shows more of the abondanza that her public forays hint at.

Who cares about brawn and intellect? The war, according to the gospel of Imelda, is won by willpower.

And chutzpah, we might add. There is nothing more surreal than seeing Imelda walk into the lobby of the Cultural Center of the Philippines and have scores of other bejeweled woman — including some who screamed and cried on EDSA — fawning over her.


Photo from davidbyrne.com
Photo from davidbyrne.com

At home, there is little of the young, insecure beauty queen and much of the woman who learned early on to make capital of her beautiful bones, doe eyes and creamy skin.

Mrs. Marcos says she is both yin and yang. There is plenty of masculinity here.

She is in a navy blue pants suit with turquoise and aqua sleeves. Huge turquoise earrings are clipped on the ears. Hands now running to pudgy sport a matching ring. On her chest is a mammoth brooch with twin figures holding up spheres; very Malakas and Maganda.

Imelda sits legs akimbo, sometimes drumming both feet and even crossing limbs in the masculine de quatro.

Her talk is earthy; her lectures and analogies full of phallic symbols.

She is at turns arch and indignant — all wounded pride and smug confidence. At times, she is much like one of the boys.

And when she turns on that charm, oh boy.

With the assurance of great beauty, this 79-year-old survivor relishes re-enacting the coy approaches, the damsel-in-distress poses that disarmed strongmen from Asia to the Middle East.

She stands and leans over; a hand reaches out to caress as she recalls her blithe handling of a love-sick, macho spouse who ruefully warned of emasculation as he begged her to lose some of their arguments.

You may have fought against the Marcos dictatorship, maybe sacrificed loved ones in that fight; there is simply no escaping the Imeldific charm.

She confesses to being greedy, and needy and extravagant. Hell, you can call her vulgar and she’ll just give that sideways smile — vulgaris, she reminds you, means one’s cup overfloweth with beauty.

READ THE FIRST PART OF THE Q&A HERE — Imelda’s Truth in Her Own Words



The Ampatuan Massacre: BECAUSE THEY COULD (Impunity in the Philippines)

keep the story alive“THE KILLERS WANT YOU TO FORGET. #KeepTheStoryAlive.”

The joint by the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) have come out with a report.

The joint mission was among the activities undertaken in November 2014 by media groups as the Philippines commemorated the fifth anniversary of the Ampatuan Massacre, the world’s single most deadly attack on journalists.

The introduction to the report gives a stark summary of the massacre and a capsule analysis of why it happened:

On November 23, 2009, the Philippines showed to the world in the most horrific way what impunity looks like.

The slaughter of 58 people – including 32 journalists – in an “unprecedented act of political violence” in Southern Mindanao was, and is, the single biggest killing of media workers in history. The scene described by journalist Nonoy Espina was that of a “cake of death”; bodies and vehicles piled and squashed into crude mass graves.

The horrifying massacre in Maguindanao shocked and sickened the world. How could this supposedly strong Asian democracy with such a vibrant and robust press play host to an audacious and brutal bloodbath of this scale? How could the killers think that no-one would notice; that life could continue on, business as usual?

The fact is they did. And they did because that was the way it had come to be in the Philippines.

You can read the full report HERE.

(DISCLOSURE: I wrote Chapter 5 of the report. I chaired the NUJP from 2004-2006 and remain a member of the organisation.)

On the cover: The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines created an art installation at the Bantayog ng Bayani in Quezon City to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the Ampatuan Massacre – the largest mass murder of journalists in history. The “Monument to the Heroes” is a landscaped memorial centre honouring individuals who lived and died in defiance of the repressive regime that ruled over the Philippines from 1972 to 1986. The installation re-created the massacre of November 23, 2009, in Maguindanao in Southern Philippines, which saw 58 people killed, including 32 journalists. The body figures were crafted from newspapers and re-create the image that ran on the front page of a newspaper the day after the massacre. Leeroy New, an artist, helped visualise the crime scene. He said: “Our use of newspapers to re-enact the crime scene is in fact a direct reference to how the issue is slowly disappearing. And how the material – the newspaper as a material – is a very transient material. And it’s also a direct reference to the victims – the journalists who were killed.” The agency behind the idea was BBDO Guerrero which provides the NUJP with pro bono support for its ongoing campaigns against journalist killings and impunity."
On the cover:
The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines created an
art installation at the Bantayog ng Bayani in Quezon City to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the Ampatuan Massacre – the largest mass murder of journalists in history.
The “Monument to the Heroes” is a landscaped memorial centre honouring individuals who lived and died in defiance of the repressive regime that ruled over the Philippines from 1972 to 1986.
The installation re-created the massacre of November 23, 2009, in Maguindanao in Southern Philippines, which saw 58 people killed, including 32 journalists. The body figures were crafted from newspapers and re-create the image that ran on the front page of a newspaper the day after the massacre.
Leeroy New, an artist, helped visualise the crime scene. He said: “Our use of newspapers to re-enact the crime scene is in fact a direct reference to how the issue is slowly disappearing. And how the material – the newspaper as a material – is a very transient material. And it’s also a direct reference to the victims – the journalists who were killed.”
The agency behind the idea was BBDO Guerrero which provides the NUJP with pro bono support for its ongoing campaigns against journalist killings and impunity.”

WHO OWNS THAT BACKHOE? (Revisiting the Ampatuan Massacre)

Who doesn’t?

Only those who did not kowtow, did not pander, did not channel funds and arms to the Ampatuans of Maguindanao.

Only those who refused to keep silent as the clan harassed and burned and killed to wrest control of lands to annex for their kingdom.

Only those who did not bargain away people’s lives and rights for a slot in command tickets come election time.

Photo from the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines
Photo from the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines

We must grieve and call for justice on behalf of 58 persons retrieved from under Maguindanao’s soil. We must never forget the carnage of November 23, 2009.

Yet neither should we overlook the precedents and the acts of commission and omission that built the perfect scenario for the Ampatuan massacre.

Context is everything. Until we address the roots of the massacre, we will keep on counting the lives the sacrificed on the altar of greed and power.

THIS WHAT IMPUNITY IS ALL ABOUT – “too much power, too little accountability”.

AMPATUAN NEWThe Ampatuan massacre did not spring from a vacuum. The weak Philippine state has long provided rich soil for the seeds of carnage. A day after the massacre, I retrieved a 2007 interview of then Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao governor Zaldy Ampatuan by MindaNews’ Carol Arguillas.

Here is Ampatuan unfiltered:

“Actually, Maguindanao province is an extension of the home province of Her Excellency, PGMA (President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo) which is Pampanga. Here in Maguindanao, considering that we have 20 mayors unopposed, these 20 mayors are allies of the administration, even those areas with opponents – Pagalungan and Talitay – the opponents are all allies of the administration.”

Arguillas’ interview was largely about the Ampatuan clan’s all-out support for Mrs. Arroyo in the 2007 elections. Following the 2009 massacre — around the time politicians were registering as contenders for the 2010 polls — the country woke up to find just what underpinned this support:

  • Free flow of arms and ammunition from the Armed Forces of the Philippines
  • Governance dictated by only a few privileged persons
  • Governance implemented according to the needs of these privileged persons
  • The resulting absence of government services – from courts to health to education
  • Years of public monies being diverted into the pockets of local warlords – who then pay back the favor by mowing down anyone opposed to their patrons
AFP PHOTO/TED ALJIBE (Photo credit should read TED ALJIBE/AFP/Getty Images)
AFP PHOTO/TED ALJIBE (Photo credit should read TED ALJIBE/AFP/Getty Images)

Around a hundred men implemented that act of mayhem, which also holds the record for the world’s deadliest attack on journalists. It was no ordinary band of “bandits”. The perpetrators were led Shariff Aguak Mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr. and a senior police office, Sr. Inspector Dicay. They brought practically the entire security apparatus of Shariff Aguak and, presumably, Ampatuan town.  This was a hydra — and its creator wasn’t just then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

The Ampatuan monster was birthed by a cabal of powerful political and economic clans who had for years paid homage to warlords, nurtured them, allowed them to raid the state treasury and turned a blind eye to mounting reports of rights violations, and neglect of the most basic of government services.

An Inquirer.Net report states:

“The Ampatuans and Mangudadatus have reigned in Maguindanao politics since 1986 when the revolutionary government of then President Corazon Aquino appointed officers-in-charge to local elective posts of mayors, municipal, provincial and village legislators, as well as governors and their deputies.

The patriarchs of both clans— Datu Andal Ampatuan Sr. and Datu Pua Mangudadatu —were appointed mayors of their respective municipalities, Maganoy (now Shariff Aguak) and Buluan, Maguindanao.

The two men never lost an election and their children have also entered politics and emerged winners, too. Many saw their political careers thrive in the positions they have held, among them, Governor Zaldy Uy Ampatuan of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, and incumbent Buluan town Vice-Mayor Esmael Toto Mangudadatu, who is now said to be running for Maguindanao governor, the post to be left by Datu Andal Ampatuan Sr. to his son, Andal Jr.”

A 2008 report of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism notes that the Ampatuans consolidated power since 2001.

The 1987 Constitution bans private armed groups. In July 2006, however, the Arroyo administration issued Executive Order 546, allowing local officials and the PNP to deputize barangay tanods as “force multipliers” in the fight against insurgents. In practice, the EO allows local officials to convert their private armed groups into legal entities with a fancy name: civilian volunteer organizations (CVO).

That probably sounds familiar to many Filipinos across the country. Even today, as the 2016 election fever starts, we hear about “force multipliers”. We also have continuing reports of political murders, including those targeting journalists, judges, activists and lawyers.

No Accountability

Slide1The funds that underwrote the Ampatuan empire belonged to the people. These funds were stolen systematically through the years.

It was easy to divert the money because close to a quarter of the Philippine national budget has always been available for leaders to dispense according to their whims.

It was easy to divert because in the filthy bed of pigs that normally goes by the name of Congress, members neglect oversight tasks in return for favors that allow them to perpetuate power through generations of entitled individuals.

It was easy to divert because when people are poor and hungry and they face the barrels of guns, they are easily cowed. So instead of fighting for their due, they accept crumbs from the lords’ tables.

The weak cannot be faulted for propping up the mighty. Not when their “betters” — those who think they know better – are equally guilty of sacrificing principles for political exigencies.

The coerced can be forgiven their meekness. Those who play with the levers of power, in the hope that they can influence the outcome of events, come out with splatters of blood in their hands.

You see, the Ampatuan massacre isn’t just about one town, one province, one region. It is not the only massacre that highlights the seed of carnage. Only when those who can stand between the guns and the cowed populace speak out and walk their talk can we even begin to hope to rid the national soil of the toxins of impunity.

The Road to Impunity

What is impunity?

When 115 journalists are murdered in a quarter century span, with less than a dozen cases leading to conviction — that is impunity.

When more than a thousand activists are slain over a decade, with hundreds still missing, and hardly anyone held accountable for these crimes – this is impunity.

When the President of a Republic hails a butcher of activists as her hero – this is impunity.

When military officers engaged in massive electoral fraud are promoted – this is impunity.

When radio stations are torched and bombed, when local government officials can storm a broadcast booth and beat up an anchor — that is impunity.

Impunity is the goal, the end — the god on whose altar victims are sacrificed.

Impunity is success gone mad. Impunity is a situation where you, demigod, are the only one left standing in democracy’s graveyard. Impunity is a paradise for tyrants and hell for the rest of us forced to choose between silence and a bullet.

In a perverse way, impunity is like a precocious child. It doesn’t spring from the air fully grown. If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes an entire society to breed impunity.

It is right that we hold butchers and their enablers accountable for their crimes. But we must go beyond that. We must look around, study past and present, review our own thoughts and actions, so that we can map our escape from impunity. For impunity is a monster with numerous tentacles. Until we learn to discern the roads that link to it, we will forever be running in place, writhing as the our nation slowly gives up its soul.

Here lies impunity…

When we fork over bribes or when we offer bribes to make life easier – there lies the road to impunity. Such enabling action only encourage those who think they are above the law.

When political leaders are silent on the abuses of their followers and allies because they may be needed in the next elections – there lies the road to impunity. When a politician looks the other way, you can be sure it has to do with a wish for his friends to do the same when he gets in trouble.

When politicians vote on the basis of pork – there lies the road to impunity.  When politicians vote on the basis of partisan politics – there lies the road to impunity.

When political parties are shorn of ideological or political identities and simply merge and divide on pure profit motives – there lies the road to impunity.

When we refuse to engage in governance processes – there lies the road to impunity. It is easier to blow the whistle on plans of dubious integrity than chase after perpetrators when they have further lined their pockets and roped in new, hungry allies into their circle.

When we vote on the basis of what scraps are thrown the way of our clans, instead of what funds are invested into community development projects – there lies the road to impunity. If someone can afford to rain down coins on an entire village, it is because he or she has a vault filled with dirty cash.

When those who think themselves enlightened fulminate against the ‘ignorant’ masses but refuse to engage the same – there lies the road to impunity. When no alternative models are offered them, people will choose on pure survival instinct.

When those who think themselves enlightened rail against ignorance but refuse to aid the masses in getting a just deal from society and government – therein lies the road to impunity.  The only chance you have against guns, goons and gold is the goodwill of the masses. That is earned by showing them you care. We laugh at them for mistaking alms as a sign of love, but it is a battle lost by default because of our refusal to invest time, brains and sweat in their gut issues and life-and-death causes.

When the incomes of Justices and the state’s highest auditors are beyond the pale of review – there lies the road to impunity. If we are to submit ourselves to the judgments of these men and women (for better or worse), we need to believe in them, need to see how they live away from the benches and the number-crunching machines.

When we see rebellion as an excuse to practice butchery and pogroms – there lies the road to impunity. Sympathy for a cause does not have to translate to blindness.  You cannot wait for victory. Do that and come face to face with the triumphant gods of impunity.

When we allow the human rights of anyone, for any reason, to be violated by the state, when we ignore the fact that all states are vested with powers that need to be regulated by laws – there lies the road to impunity.

Impunity loves shortcuts. And there is no better time to review our practices than in an era of transition. Better to slog through a winding road and dismantle tangled barricades and defuse assorted landmines along the way. The alternative is a stampede that leads us back into impunity’s loving arms.

When a President borne to power on the promise of tuwid na daan reneges on a pledge to make freedom of information a priority of government, and suddenly finds a host of reasons to doubt what even his paranoid predecessor’s executives had grudgingly blessed — you open the gate once more to impunity. If you cannot see that impunity’s nemesis is transparency, if you do not understand that impunity thrives because all means are used to foil discovery of crimes, if you cannot even trust your people to handle a constitutional right…. aaaah, what else will you withhold from us tomorrow, the day after, the next year?