Guns, Goons and Gold describe the landscape of Philippine elections. Every Philippine election sees election related violence. We may often asks, “Do these politicians seek public office to be able to serve their constituents or is it for the power that comes with the position?
Maguindanao is a province located in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao in southern Philippines. This distressed province is always in the headlines for its long-running Muslim separatist insurgence. Also grabbing headlines is the struggle for regional power among a few hundred rich families and clans that have an excessive amount of wealth and the desperate measures some will go to protect their hold on power. Murder has always been the primary political tool for getting rid of rivals.
The morning of November 23, 2009 presented a familiar scenario except for the excessiveness of the killings. The Maguindanao Massacre also known as the Ampatuan massacre, after the town were the mass graves were found, has been referred to as the most heinous crime committed against journalists in the country. A total of at least 34 journalists were killed. The journalists joined the group of Esmael Mangudadatu, then Buluan town Vice-Mayor, together with his wife, sisters, supporters and bystanders. Totaling fifty-seven people, all of them were kidnapped, brutally killed and buried in mass graves, by principal suspect, then incumbent Maguindanao governor Andal Ampatuan, Sr. The group was heading to the provincial Commission on Election office to file Mangudadatu’s Certificate of Candidacy for governor of Maguindanao, challenging Datu Unsay mayor Andal Ampatuan, Jr. Reliable reports that he would be ambushed on his way to the COMELEC, was precisely the reason Mangudadatu sent his wife and sisters, escorted by journalists, lawyers and aides, to do the filling for him. It was his belief that any violence would be aborted since the group consisted mostly of women and journalists. He thought the convoy had strength in numbers. He was wrong.
Two days after the massacre, Andal Ampatuan, Sr. the prime suspect has been taken into custody. His mansions have also been raided and have yielded high power guns and ammunitions. Ampatuan Sr, his sons and some relatives and aides were charged with murder. With almost 200 defendants and 300 witnesses, it is said that the trial could take years. The trial has already started this July and the court proceedings are aired via live streaming on the internet.
A couple of days into the trial, one of the accused, Zaldy Ampatuan has sent fillers that he would like to turn state witness and testify against his father and the rest of his family. He even went a bit further as to expose election cheating by the family’s know allay, former President Gloria Arroyo during the 2004 Presidential elections. This latest developments caused an outrage among the relatives of the victims President Aquino, in a dialogue, assured them that Zaldy Ampatuan turning state witness is an impossibility.