Wenceslao: Moving on?

Bong O. Wenceslao

THE worst episode of political violence in the country has gone full circle with the court convicting at least the act’s masterminds. But what happened in Maguindanao in 2009 should never be forgotten. The Ampatuan massacre should remain in our minds as an example of how deeply political warlordism can tear our democratic fabric. “Never again” should be our call after a Quezon City judge finally came out with a decision on the case after years of litigation.

The handing down of the court decision certainly opened old wounds because of the flood of memories it brought in. I was still a full-time journalist when reports said that a number of media people were among those killed. When a member of the Mangudadatu clan attempted to wrest political control of Maguindanao from the already politically entrenched Ampatuan clan, he knew the consequences and thought transparency could negate the power a warlord wields. The media people obliged and ended up victims of the political power play there.

Maguindanao is basically rural as is most of the places in Mindanao. I stayed in the countryside for around six years and could therefore imagine the horrors the mainly urban-based journalists went through when their coverage of the filing of the certificate of candidacy of an Ampatuan clan challenger was cut short on the road going to the provincial capitol and they and the others were herded to what was supposed to be their final resting place.

Previous to this, political killings were isolated and selective. The Ampatuan massacre was wholesale and virtually unprecedented in the country in its brutality. And it would not have happened had not various factors come into play, including the wielding by the Ampatuans of absolute power in their jurisdiction, which was made possible by their political alliance with the camp of then president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. What the Ampatuans sought to achieve with the massacre is a testament to the mindset that warlordism cultivates.

Would a governor, say of an urban center like Cebu, think he could kill journalists, his political opponents and the family of his opponents in one sweep and bury all of them, including their vehicles in a mass grave dug by government-owned backhoe and trucks? What politician would think he could make political opponents and journalists vanish without a trace? That thinking could only have been cultivated in a place controlled by isolated warlords.

Of course, the massacre did not result to the further political entrenchment of the Ampatuans but instead broke the clan’s political and economic stranglehold on many Maguindanao areas. The recent convictions of the clan’s leaders means the clan, if ever, needs to start all over again in rebuilding its political power. If not, new political warlords could emerge and the cycle of violence is repeated.

The point is, the political condition that has given rise to political warlordism in the country has remained. Which is still worrisome despite our efforts to move on from this sordid episode in our supposedly democratic milieu.