The Ampatuans, the Military and Elections in Maguindanao: The Ties That Bind


MANILA — When Maj. Gen. Gaudencio Pangilinan, vice chief of staff for operations of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), said that the martial law recently declared by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in Maguindanao should be extended until the elections so that the military can teach the Ampatuans “how to run peaceful and credible elections,” he was either missing out on or conveniently forgetting one thing: that the military itself was in large part responsible for propping up the Ampatuans.

Arroyo declared martial law in Maguindanao, through Proclamation No. 1959, on Dec. 4, or 11 days after the massacre of at least 57 persons who were part of a convoy led by Genalyn Tiamzon-Mangudadatu, wife of Buluan Vice Mayor Esmael Mangudadatu, who challenged the Ampatuan clan.

Genalyn was to lead the filing of her husband’s certificate of candidacy for Maguindanao’s gubernatorial seat on Nov. 23. The convoy was waylaid in broad daylight by some 100 armed men led by Datu Unsay Mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr. Several bodies of those in the convoy, as well as those of motorists who were just passing by, were discovered later that day, and more remains were unearthed in the next few days. The dead included some 30 journalists and two lawyers.

“We will show them how to run peaceful and credible elections,” Pangilinan told reporters on Dec. 6. “We wish it could be extended for a little while – 60 days, maybe longer, maybe (until) the elections – so we can ensure that the elections will be credible.” Arroyo lifted the declaration on Saturday.

The Ties That Bind

The Ampatuans — whose rule over Maguindanao was unchallenged from 2001 until their arrests following the massacre of Nov. 23 — figured in election-related controversies in 2004 and 2007.

Their political ascendancy in 2001 was accomplished with more than a little help from the military, particularly the Army’s 6th Infantry Division.

Although they reached the peak of their political power only in 2001, the Ampatuans have been notorious as warlords in Maguindanao since the Spanish colonial period.

Andal Ampatuan Sr., who was governor of Maguindanao from 2001 until a few days after the massacre, has ties with the military dating back to the Marcos years.

A grade school dropout, Andal Sr. began his government career early in the 1970s as police chief before eventually becoming vice mayor of Maganoy (now Shariff Aguak) during the martial-law years. Magano’y mayor at that time was Pinagayan Ampatuan, father of Andal Sr.

When the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) came close to taking over Maganoy, Ampatuan cast his lot with the military. It was a favor the military would not forget for the longest time: they responded by supporting, even arming, his private army.

In 1986, after what is now known as the People Power I uprising, then President Corazon Aquino ousted Pinagayan from the mayoralty of Maganoy and appointed Andal Sr. as OIC (officer-in-charge) mayor. He ran for mayor of the same town two years later in the first local elections following Aquino’s ascent to power, won, and held that position for the next 10 years.

In 2001, Andal Sr. ran for Maguindanao’s gubernatorial seat against then incumbent Zacaria Candao, whom the military accused of being a supporter of the revolutionary Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), a group that had originated as a breakaway from the MNLF in 1978. He soundly defeated Candao in that election.

In several media interviews following the 2001 election, Candao said soldiers belonging to the 6th ID had barred several of his poll watchers from entering precincts throughout the province.

Thus did the Ampatuans begin to establish their fist grip over the whole province of Maguindanao.

A Firm Grip on Power

The Ampatuans maintained their foothold through 2004 and 2007. In a 2007 interview with the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ), Maguindanao Provincial Administrator Norie Unas explained how the Ampatuans did it: the results were decided even before the balloting through a process which he described as “consensus-building.”

“People are critical of our system and ridicule us for the manner by which we choose our leaders,” he said. He said it was that kind of process that worked for Maguindanao, “not that demo-democracy.”

“We know that the Manila system does not fit us,” Unas said. “We have stabilized the political landscape because there’s no contest every election. This is one better way for us Muslims coming out with our leaders.”

Maguindanao under the Ampatuans played a significant part in delivering victories to the Arroyo administration in the elections of 2004 and 2007.

In the controversial “Hello Garci” recordings, the man suspected to be then Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) told the woman whose voice sounds like Arroyo’s that she would not be having “much of a problem” in Maguindanao. This was the same series of recorded phone conversations in which the woman who sounds like Arroyo instructed the man believed to be Garcillano to rig the 2004 presidential polls and secure for her a victory of “more than 1 M” over the late actor Fernando Poe Jr., Arroyo’s closest rival.

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