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Ampatuans in the 2013 elections

The prime suspects in the Philippine's worst political massacre: Andal Ampatuan (L); former governor of the Philippine …

An outcry in the media occurred recently over the fact that 72 people, according to the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ), surnamed or middle-named Ampatuan are running for various offices in the province of Maguindanao.  This was in connection, of course, to the infamous Maguindanao massacre in which Governor Andal Ampatuan, Sr., sons and followers were charged of killing 58 persons, including 32 journalists.

Of the 72 (Rappler.com counted it at 74), PCIJ counted 34 running with the United National Alliance (UNA), a coalition between Vice-President Jejomar Binay’s Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Laban ng Pilipino (PDP-Laban) and former President Joseph Estrada’s Partido ng Masang Pilipino (PMP). Nine Ampatuans are running with the Liberal Party.

How come this thing happened? Or, as some observers said, how come this was “permitted” by the Aquino administration? The answer, I think, lies in the various factors that affected the Maguindanao politics of the present.

First of all, the Ampatuan clan and its related clans formed a huge swath of Maguindanao electoral constituency, estimated at more than 60 percent of the voting population in the province. The province’s registered voters in the 2010 national and local elections numbered 652,933 voters, the largest in the whole ARMM. Of this number, some 443,386 or 67.91% voted. This was however whittled down considerably by the general registration of July 2012.

The Maguindanao votes during Andal Ampatuan’s time are considered as a huge command vote reserve due to his terror regime which intimidated or influenced the local governments, including the local Comelec, in the area. As such, even national politicians, whether incumbent or opposition, curry favors from him for all or part of this vote reserve.

Now, the Ampatuan clan vote has fragmented, with a part the clan siding with Governor Esmael “Toto” Mangungudato, the LP’s official candidate for governor. This consists of clan members who got in the way of Andal’s rise to power and those who were close to the Mangungudatos in the first place. To be sure, the Mangungudatos are considered part of the larger Ampatuan clan before the clash over the governorship in the 2010 elections.

The considerable number however remained intact outside of the Mangungudato influence. They are now orphaned, with most distancing themselves from Andal and his sons. They found refuge or ally with Mayor Tocao Mastura, the PDP-Laban official candidate for governor.

Secondly, the old adage “Politics is addition” still applies to the Maguindanao politics. This is where the traditional politicians only count the votes they get, not where these votes are coming from. From their point of view, a vote is a vote is a vote.

This unfortunately includes national politicians who have the 2016 presidential elections in mind. The Maguindanao votes are too tempting not to try to make sure that their local bets win in the local elections. The 2013 elections, for them, is the opportunity to build the vote base for the 2016 elections. If they know anything about the Ampatuan candidacies, they deny it, and as long as this does not become a big issue that would lead to vote loses elsewhere, the pragmatic view here is to tacitly accept these.

At the end of the day, the Ampatuan vote may not anymore be the potent block it once was. The question therefore is: Does it matter whether you get it or not? For many, as the outcry manifests, the costs are simply too high.

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Ramon Casiple is a well-respected political analyst. He is also the Executive Director of the Institute for Political and Electoral Reform (IPER).

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