Carol Pagaduan-Araullo | Whitewash

Streetwise / Business World
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The recent moves of the Arroyo government in the aftermath of the Maguindanao massacre reeks of nothing less than a whitewash. Not only is it geared to cover-up the culpability of the Arroyo regime in creating the conditions for the barbaric killings attributed to the Ampatuan warlord clan, it even serves to test case some of the political scenarios Malacañang is preparing as the May presidential elections draws near.

If this regime has showed expertise and excellence in anything, it is in employing government resources, including state investigative (especially the police and including the Congressional committees that conduct “investigations for legislative purposes”) and prosecutorial agencies (Justice Department and Ombudsman) to cover up anomalies and crimes hatched in the highest reaches of government.

Indeed, the regime’s mopping-up operations in relation to the Maguindanao massacre has all the hallmarks of a psywar operation with Defense Secretary Norberto Gonzalez and Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita (head of Cabinet Cluster E on Political and Security Affairs) orchestrating matters.

Apart from the body count, the huge number of innocent victims who had little to do with the Ampatuan-Mangudadatu rivaly, and the ruthlessness of the mass abduction cum execution — it was the Ampatuans’ brazen utilization of the military, police and hundreds of paramilitary forces to commit their barbaric crimes that elicited universal condemnation.

People asked, how did the murderers think they could get away with a crime as horrendous as this? And the only answer that made sense is that the masterminds were in fact a law unto themselves in Maguindanao. How else explain why even the military and police authorities refused to provide critical security detail to the Mangudadatus poised to file their relative’s certificate of candidacy for governor? Had they done so perhaps the murderous plan could have been aborted or some precious lives spared.

But how did the Ampatuans get to be that way? The answer stares us in the face.

The Ampatuans and the Arroyo-Ermita-Gonzalez cabal had a cozy, mutually beneficial and reinforcing relationship wherein the feudal-fascist clan of the Ampatuans served as the pillar of support of the Arroyo regime in Muslim Mindanao. It delivered the Arroyo administration’s statistically impossible landslide “victories” in 2004 and partly, in 2007, and kept at bay if not shut out any anti-Arroyo opposition in their fiefdom whether they be local politicians, Moro rebels or activist groups.

In turn the Arroyo regime simply looked the other way as the Ampatuans lorded it over the province, engaged in illicit activities and committed bloody crimes against their enemies and their constituents.

Just as it did with other tried and tested allies such as “Garci”, Jocjoc Bolante, Abalos, Neri, and of course the First Gentleman, the regime vested the Ampatuans with a cloak of impunity that only emboldened them to plan and execute the most heinous crimes without fear of neither reprisal nor punishment.

This is the truth that the Arroyo-Ermita-Gonzalez troika now wishes to hide. Among the reasons for declaring martial law in Maguindanao was to impress on all and sundry, not least of which the international community, that it was dead serious in going after the killers. It also served to facilitate securing sensitive evidence of the Ampatuans’ role in the 2004 massive electoral fraud while defanging the warlord clan, even if only temporarily, in order to reassert the power of central government in the Ampatuan enclave and appear then to restore law and order.

In the process, the regime achieved these objectives within a few days so much so that they could simply lift the martial law proclamation and thereby render moot and academic any question either on its constitutionality or necessity that could be raised by Congress and the public. It was a classic case of fait accompli and the political gain for the regime is the fact that they got away with a dry run for a possible scenario of “failure of elections”.

As to the issue of private armies, the Ampatuan case being the most notorious to date, Mrs. Arroyo, Gen. Ermita, Messer Teodoro and Gonzalez cannot feign ignorance about the existence of private armies maintained by the ubiquitous political dynasties and other big landlord and business interests in the provinces. They have been there since time immemorial acting as personal bodyguards, security force on their properties, goons to intimidate the electorate during elections and to safeguard the massive “cheating” that takes place, and terror squads to subjugate restive tenants and farm workers.

By virtue of Mrs. Arroyo’s 2006 Executive Order 546, brainchild of Local Government Secretary Ronaldo Puno, these private armies were legalized as paramilitary forces to “multiply” the counter-insurgency forces of the military and police. Although EO 546 places the supervision and control of these “civilian volunteer organizations” (CVOs) under the police, local government officials through the so-called Peace and Order Councils have a huge say especially since they are tasked to source the funds needed to sustain the CVOs. It doesn’t take much to see how these paramilitary forces immediately become beholden to the incumbent governors and mayors if they were not already loyal to the aforementioned political overlords in the first place.

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