By BENJIE OLIVEROS
MANILA — Impunity is what caused the Ampatuan massacre and it is also this impunity that has once again been demonstrated when President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo took an obdurate stance in defending the declaration of martial law in Maguindanao. “We make no apologies for acting where others fear to tread,” she said. But seeing the people of Maguindanao evacuating when martial law was declared makes one wonder who they fear more, the Ampatuans or the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). If martial law was declared to achieve stability, pursue justice for the victims, and protect the witnesses, why then were the people evacuating?
Arroyo added that “inaction would have led to dire consequences” and that she had made a tough choice. But the “dire consequences” of her choice had already happened in the Ampatuan massacre. It was her choice to allow the Ampatuans to accumulate so much wealth, power, and arms — a lot of which came from the AFP — that was why the November 23 massacre happened. The Ampatuans operated with impunity, which emboldened them to commit a hideous crime in broad daylight, near checkpoints, and with the help of the police.
Martial law, she said, allowed her government to quell a “rebellion.” It is not rebels, however, that the people of Maguindanao fears. It is one of the closest allies of the Arroyo administration who makes the people cringe. It is also not rebellion that made Quezon City Judge Luisito Cortez refuse to preside over a case that happened thousands of kilometers away. Surely a rebellion of Ampatuan’s private army would not spread all the way to the National Capital Region, especially if it had already been quelled by the AFP.
For a judge who has been handling criminal cases in the past to fear a family whose members are either in jail or heavily guarded by soldiers must mean something. Otherwise why would he run away from a case that, by his own admission, would have furthered his career. Instead he risked ending his career and, at the minimum, get stuck at where he is right now till he retires, because he fears not only the Ampatuans who are in jail or their private army, which had supposedly been subdued, but the power and impunity they enjoy. Perhaps he also fears the pressure that comes with handling a high-profile case such as this where, on the one hand, the demand for justice by the Filipino people is strong, and, on the other, the accused is a close ally or more aptly a “friend” of the Arroyo government.
It is also the climate of impunity that enables Gilbert Teodoro, former Defense secretary and Arroyo’s anointed presidential candidate, to say, with a straight face, that in order to prevent another Ampatuan massacre from happening, the solution is not to dismantle private armies but to beef up the AFP and the Philippine National Police. The AFP is already 300,00-strong while the number of fighters of the New People’s Army and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front combined is, by the government’s own account, barely one tenth of that. Is it not true that half of the forces of the Philippine Army is already deployed in Mindanao? Is it not true that it is the AFP that recruits, trains, and arms civilian volunteer organizations such as the one being used by the Ampatuans? Increasing police presence? Is it also not true that police officials were manning the checkpoint where the convoy of the victims was waylaid? Was there not enough police officials participating in the massacre?
This impunity must end. And this impunity would not end for as long as Arroyo wields power whether as president, congresswoman, or prime minister. Impunity would also persist if Arroyo’s clone cum anointed one, Gilbert Teodoro, emerges the winner in the presidential elections by some stroke of luck, especially of the Garci kind. (Bulatlat.com)