Saturday, November 28, 2009


If you do something for me that I cannot do for myself, I will do something for you that you cannot do for yourself. You scratch my back, and I'll scratch yours. This mutual covenant between the President of the Philippines Gloria M. Arroyo and the Ampatuans had started what the Ampatuans have now become—the Maguindanao’s law of the jungle. And whosoever shall keep it may prosper, but whosoever that shall break shall die. For the strength of one is the other and vice versa.

President Arroyo needed somebody to control the votes in Mindanao, and Governor Andal Ampatuan, Sr., with his four wives and over 30 children, and intermarriages with other political clans, the President instinctively knew he must be the right pick as the chosen one to make her political future in the entire Mindanao secure.

Governor Andal Ampatuan, Sr., in long sleeve;
and ARMM Governor Andal 'Zaldy' Ampatuan beside him

The Ampatuans begun to rise from nobody to over everybody as soon as Madam Gloria M. Arroyo became President in 2001. Then and there, the family members and relatives started to hold over key government positions, elective and appointive, in the national and local level. This early, the Maguindanao residents know that only one family wields real power in Maguindanao: the Ampatuans, led by its acknowledged patriarch, Governor Andal Ampatuan, Sr.

In 2005, one of the elder son Andal ‘Zaldy’ Ampatuan, at 38 years old, became the governor of the Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), the youngest ever to head the regional government. He took more than 90 percent of the votes among several candidates. But nevertheless his election was subject to questions of impropriety as was believed to be less than credible and honest raising quizzical eyebrows.

With guns and the blessings of President Arroyo, the Ampatuans seem to be digging in for the long haul.

To tighten their grip on power, President Arroyo made it legal for the Ampatuans to have hundreds of armed men and women under their employ who as thralldoms, will ready to die for the Ampatuans.

But the 1987 Constitution bans private armed groups. No problem, in the Philippines Madam Arroyo is the law, thus, in July 2006, the Arroyo administration issued Executive Order 546, allowing local officials and the PNP to deputize barangay tanods as “force multipliers" in the fight against insurgents. In practice, the EO allows local officials to convert their private armed groups into legal entities with a fancy name: civilian volunteer organizations (CVOs).

And whenever the Ampatuans travels about a hundred bodyguards board the back of spiffy pickups that are staples of Ampatuan convoys; and these CVO members typically lug long automatic assault firearms. The convoys of 20 vehicles or more always begin and end with pickups mounted with big machine guns. With the Ampatuans chronic show of force, the residents would rather not do anything to stand in the way of the Ampatuans.

To return the favor President Arroyo has been extending to them, every election the Ampatuans became the forceful conduit in helping ensure Madam Arroyo’s victory over the whole of Mindanao, literally with all the votes going everything for the administration versus nothing but mere splatters for the opposing candidates.

THE Maguindanao capitol [photo by Jaileen Jimeno]

AMPATUAN house [photo by Jaileen Jimeno]

But inspite of their influence and money, inspite of their mansions that dot the landscape, inspite of their towering stature as the gods and the law, the Maguindanao sank into economic doldrums and poverty and is the third poorest province in the country. It has a collapsed educational system that only 39.7 percent of adults in Maguindanao have six years of basic education. The vast majority of those are impoverished, illiterate people who are battling with what to eat for the day.

Datu Unsay Mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr., the principal suspect of the hideously gruesome massacre in Maguindanao Province where on November 23, 2009, fifty seven (57) people, including thirty six (36) journalists were killed instantly in one setting.

Photo from

With the Maguindanao massacre on November 23, 2009, the government could not believe how a single clan managed to build up that army, whose firepower is just now being exposed to public scrutiny. This clearly illustrates the failure of the national government to enforce the law in the autonomous region. Military forces now deployed throughout the ARMM following the declaration of a state of emergency have found armored vehicles, each mounted with two .50 caliber machine guns, that do not belong to either the military or police. Authorities said the vehicles appeared to have been locally assembled. How can an armored vehicle assembly plant operate under the radar of the government? If those vehicles were not locally manufactured, how were they brought in? Were the Ampatuans authorized to obtain armored vehicles from abroad?

Authorities reported disarming over 300 members of the Ampatuans’ private army, but the weapons confiscated were government-issued, most of them reportedly very old. How many unlicensed weapons, including machine guns and the M60 submachine guns reportedly used in the massacre, are in the Ampatuan arsenal?

If you rationalize carefully, President Arroyo with her government are just too careful in handling the case of the Ampatuan family. The saying “best friends can be worst enemy” is the sword of Damocles ready to fall on them at any time.

But for me, it is just a matter of time and the scenario will be a repeat to that of former President Joseph Estrada and Governor Luis ‘Chavit’ Singson. For the benefit of my friends in foreign countries who are following my blog, Governor Singson and former President Estrada were very close friends also. Governor Singson has become the man Friday of former President Estrada to whom the latter share even his most intimate and most kept secrets. As the normal course of events would have it, their closeness turned from harmonious to sour.

In October 2000, Governor Singson laid down everything he knew about former President Estrada for the two years of their closeness, particularly the fact that he gave the former President 400 million pesos as payoff from illegal gambling profits. In a matter of two (2) months after the expose’, the latter was ousted from the Presidency by the Filipinos through protest rallies.

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