By Angie Rosales and Gerry Baldo
The expulsion of three members of the powerful Ampatuan political clan of Maguindanao from administration party Lakas-Kampi-CMD smacks of politicking and an effort to distance its candidates, including standard bearer Gilbert Teodoro, from the dastardly deed of an ally of President Arroyo in the massive and systematic cheating operations in the 2004 elections, senators said yesterday.
The senators, including one former Palace ally, noted the alleged role played by the Ampatuans in the cheating operations installing one of their present colleagues, Sen. Juan Miguel Zubiri, as a topnotcher in Maguindanao during the 2007 senatorial race.
The only way for the Arroyo government to redeem itself after it showed signs of going easy on the suspects, is to get all the perpetrators, including the masterminds, lock them up, and throw away the key, Sen. Panfilo Lacson said.
Sen. Francis Pangilinan said the expulsion of the Ampatuans by the administration party is “an act that is too little and too late.”
“It smacks of politicking and maneuvering for their standard bearer. They now wash their hands of the grizzly murders. It will not bring the massacre victims back to life. We believe Teodoro is ill-advised in this attempt to gain political points. The party which he now heads created the monster in Maguindanao, and he, together with other Lakas stalwarts, should not be allowed to wash their hands of the guilt of having aided and abetted warlordism in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). Lakas-Kampi is part of the problem in Maguindanao,” he said.
“The lawlessness and barbarism that now prevailed in the province has the finger prints of Lakas-Kampi all over it considering all warring factions were party leaders supported unconditionally by the ruling party. Who can forget the incredible 12-0 Maguindanao vote in the 2007 election wherein Lakas-Kampi conspired with local warlords to make Lakas’ stalwart Zubiri no. 1 in the province? Who can forget the burning of election returns by (Comelec official) Lintang Bedol?,” he said.
The ruling party is ready for the political repercussions that the expulsion of the Ampatuans would bring to the party, Teodoro, who is also Lakas-Kampi-CMD chairman, said.
“The political repercussion the (expulsion) brings is secondary. An incident of this proportion is beyond politics,” Teodoro added.
“This involves the integrity of state institutions. I don’t care about the political repercussions,” he said.
The party’s top officials attending the party’s executive committee meeting unanimously decided to expel Maguindanao Gov. Andal Ampatuan Sr. and his two sons, Gov Zaldy Ampatuan of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao and Mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr. of Datu Unsay town in Maguindanao.
The Maguindanao Governor is the provincial chairman of Lakas-Kampi CMD, while the ARMM governor is the regional chairman. Congressional sources said that the Ampatuans were responsible for the “swing votes” that made President Arroyo win during the last elections.
“That’s why President Arroyo is greatly indebted to the Ampatuans,” the source said yesterday.
Teodoro said that as public officials, the Ampatuans, especially Andal Jr. must submit themselves to investigation following the Maguindanao massacre.
Teodoro called for a speedy and credible resolution to the case, even as he defended the party’s move condemning the incident in largely symbolic terms.
“A political party can give a strong signal and strong position as to what the real sentiment of the country is. That is the most we can do—to exercise our political and moral suasion to urge authorities to provide a speedy resolution,” Teodoro said.
Expelling the Ampatuans will not bring the dead back to life. But this is better than a party standing idly by in silence, he said.
“Lakas-kampi aided and abetted lawlessness when it allowed for the wanton disregard and flagrant violation of election laws in the area. They even rewarded their local partners handsomely by providing logistical support for their ARMM reelection. President Arroyo and Lakas-Kampi created the Frankenstein monster that in the end massacred 57 human beings last Monday,” Pangilinan further said.
Sen. Loren Legarda said declaring a state of emergency and state of mourning along with the expulsion move are not enough, especially in comforting the families of the victims.
“There is nothing left that should be done and given than swift justice. Remember this did not happen during a war but to a group of people, in a convoy, planning to file a certificate of candidacy. They were exercising their political rights as citizens of our country and as elected officials. It’s bad enough that they kill one person but to massacre more than 50 women, lawyers, journalists…is a different matter. I don’t think that we must relegate this into a rivalry of political clans. It’s more than that,” she said during the weekly Kapihan sa Senado news forum.
The incident also proved the lack of control of the administration in enforcing the laws of the country and maintaining peace and order.
“It’s not a political thing but a heinous crime. It’s not mourning we need but implementation of law order and justice,” said Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr.
Pimentel also challenged Arroyo to prove that the state of emergency she imposed in Maguindanao and Sultan Kudarat is not just for show by taking quick and decisive action against the suspected perpetrators of the carnage.
“There is a state of emergency. But what I fear is it may only be for show. It remains to be seen who will be hit by the exercise of that power. Very likely it will be the poor, the powerless, the innocent, instead of the guilty,” he said.
Pimentel said there are sufficient grounds for law enforcers to hold Maguindanao Governor Andal Ampatuan Sr. and his son, Datu Unsay Mayor Andal Ampatuan, Jr. so that they can be questioned on their alleged involvement in the massacre of more than 50 individuals, including members of their political rival, the Mangudadatu, their supporters, lawyers, media men and other innocent victims.
“Gov. Andal Ampatuan should be held as a material witness. You may not be a formal suspect but you can be a material witness because you have many things to answer for what your people did,” Pimentel added.
He said Gov. Ampatuan should be held responsible because according to witnesses, the armed men who abducted and gunned down the victims were mostly members of the civilian volunteer organizations (CVOs) or militia organized and controlled by the governor.
He said a graphic evidence was the backhoe used in digging the gravesites of the victims bearing the name of the provincial government of Maguindanao.
On the other hand, Buluan Vice Mayor Ishmael “Toto” Mangudadatu said his wife, Genalyn Tiamzon, positively identified Mayor Ampatuan Jr. as the one who led the attackers – an information she was able to relay to him in her cellphone calls minutes before they were abducted and massacred.
“Obviously, even an ordinary person can make the connection that they (the Ampatuans) have a lot to explain,” Pimentel said.
“I recall that when the wife of broadcaster Ted Faylon committed suicide, nobody pointed to him as having killed his wife. But he was taken into custody by the police. In other words, there is unequal and uneven application of the rule of law. That is what I fear now,” he added.
Arroyo is perceived to be soft on the Ampatuans because of her debt of gratitude to them in delivering votes in her favor in the 2004 presidential election
and to administration senatorial candidates in the 2007 election.
“In matters like this, political considerations should be set aside. The rule of law should be upheld,” Pimentel said.
He also said that all police and military officials who were not able to prevent the buildup of the huge civilian militia or private army by the Ampatuans should be sanctioned.
Pimentel pointed out that there are limits to the authority of the local government units to form CVOs in areas where the law and order situation is critical, particularly in terms of the number of volunteers who can be recruited.
He said a military general has admitted to him that the Armed Forces of the Philippines is not only fighting Muslim and communist insurgency problems alone but also has to wrestle with the private armies being maintained by political warlords in Mindanao with the acquiescence of the administration.
The minority leader bewailed that the AFP and the PNP appear to be helpless in going after these private armed groups because they are prevented from doing so by these abusive politicians by flaunting their influence with the President.