Martial Law in Maguindanao will accomplish some objectives: the arrest, detention, and prosecution of clan members suspected of perpetrating the horrendous massacre in Ampatuan town last November 23, 2009; the definite inevitability of justice for the victims; the successful search and confiscation of many legal and illegal weapons from police, CVOs, and some soldiers under the control of powerful clan members; the disempowerment of local authority and power in various municipalities that are subservient to the ruling clan. People feel a greater sense of relief and freedom while traveling on the national highway between the two cities of Cotabato and Tacurong. Gone are the many armed escorts and bodyguards protecting officials and clan members against similarly armed enemies.
Deeply rooted in Maguindanao is a culture of dominant clan power. A false reading of the situation results in a truncated view of Maguindanao political history. This view sees the phenomenon as the product of one government period, the decade of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Arguably a greater share of the blame could be laid at the door of the present government. But the culture of dominant and changing local power has been with us in the once “empire province of Cotabato,” which included the present Maguindanao, since at least the 1950s. To my knowledge, no government from the 1950s to the present did anything serious to root this out. In the past 60 years, all governments and many politicians from all parties wanting to get votes have cultivated this culture and ignored the periodic violence that erupted. It was a case of mutual political exploitation and expediency. We ourselves, ordinary citizens, have kept quiet in the past 60 years and learned the art of accommodation.
But of course criticism of Martial Law in Maguindanao is really based on total distrust of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Survey after survey is paraded to say that this is the pulse of the people. The stand of small protesting “militant” groups is given disproportionate media exposure. Political oppositionists and personalities from “militant” organizations are interviewed again and again to give their expected negative views on actions of government. In a very real sense the extraordinary amount of media exposure that is given to the opposition in Manila provides a distorted view of the country as a whole.
But given all the above it is now clear that the peoples’ hopes and expectations in Central and Central Mindanao regarding Martial Law will not all be realized. Some of these are: the disbanding of all private armies in Maguindanao; the identification and arrest of members of kidnapping and drug syndicates; the restructuring of legislative, judicial, and executive units so as to be more democratic, independent, trustworthy and pro-common good; and the assurance that elections would be honest, clean, and peaceful.
What might be the reason for the failure to meet expectations? Martial Law by its nature as a last resort should be of short duration. But precisely because of its brevity, the following will result: one clan will be significantly disarmed; the balance of political and armed power will shift to other clans; private armies will remain though possibly less visible and probably more sophisticated in behavior; the deep trauma resulting from the massacre will persist; rido is not going to be stopped; the legislative, justice, and executive--and electoral--mechanisms will still be in the hands of those related to or have debts of gratitude to various families; and if a member of the rival clan will somehow gain the top post of the province, do we in Maguindanao really believe that the provincial capitol will remain in Shariff Aguak? Even the peace process will be affected by the loyalties of local rebel commanders to their own clans. Hence, the fundamental dysfunctions in Maguindanao will remain after Martial Law.
What do I see as a possible solution? Even now sentiments are strong in Central and southern Mindanao that elections for local offices in Maguindanao should be deferred. Or at least the term of Martial Law should be extended till after the elections. The fundamental suggestion is for us to move forward from partisan political criticism to collective constructive thinking and effective action on this central issue of Maguindanao dysfunction. I respectfully address this to all concerned, particularly the Senate, House of Representatives, the judicial branch and the Arroyo administration, as well as to all of us Maguindanawons.
+Orlando B. Quevedo, O.M.I.
Archbishop of Cotabato
December 11, 2009