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Arroyo dared: Get Ampatuans
In The Press Posted on November 25th, 2009.
MANILA, Philippines—Shocked and outraged by the Monday massacre in Maguindanao province, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s allies Tuesday called on her to swiftly go after a scion of the clan that helped her clinch victory in the 2004 presidential election.
Gilbert “Gibo” Teodoro Jr., standard-bearer of the ruling Lakas-Kampi-CMD, said authorities should immediately arrest Datu Unsay Mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr. on the strength of the evidence supposedly pointing to him and his men.
“The government should [take] unequivocal and strong [steps] against the perpetrators. [Ampatuan] must be arrested because he has something to do with this. He must also face an impartial investigation,” the resigned defense secretary said at a press conference.
Ampatuan should surrender to the police if he wants to clear his name, Teodoro said. He also said a delay in the government’s response to the “indescribable” killings would be a cause of “national embarrassment.”
Palawan Rep. Antonio Alvarez, the spokesperson of the ruling party, said any of its members found liable for the killings should be expelled at once.
The Ampatuans are party members. Only in June, Gov. Zaldy Ampatuan of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), a son of Maguindanao Gov. Andal Ampatuan, was appointed interim regional chair of the party.
“If the party leadership, despite overwhelming evidence, will continue to keep them in the ranks for political expediency, then it will be wracked with resignations as it will become untenable for many members, like me, to stay in a party that coddles mass murderers,” Alvarez warned.
He said the party would not be worthy of its name Lakas-Kampi-Christian Muslim Democrats if it served as a refuge for “people who violate that principle in the most heinous manner.”
“Gibo’s good fight will lose its meaning if [the party] accepts support from people whose very actions contradict the party’s philosophy of political tolerance and civil discourse,” Alvarez said, adding:
“The spiral of violence will only be stopped, justice served, and democracy honored if the full force of the law is applied without fear or favor.”
In cold blood
At the House of Representatives, Speaker Prospero Nograles said Malacañang should “drop all political considerations” in its investigation to determine those responsible for the murder of at least 36 people, including lawyers and journalists.
“This is already beyond political alliances. I still cannot imagine how a man can be so brutal and cold-blooded in employing violence just to achieve political ends. It is really unbelievable,” said Nograles, who represents the first district of Davao City.
“The effort to identify the culprits, particularly the masterminds, should be done swiftly but with cold objectivity, and all partisan considerations, including political alliances, should be set aside,” he said.
Nograles urged the military and police to beef up security in Maguindanao in order to avert more violence there.
“[They] should now step up efforts to disarm private armed groups in Mindanao,” he said, warning that the killings could erupt into a full-blown clan war known as “rido.”
Nograles also said the Commission on Elections should study whether it would be still feasible to hold elections in Maguindanao in May.
Elsewhere, Vice President Noli de Castro condemned the killings and called on the government to “assert its power to stop warlordism.”
“These barbaric acts have no place in a civilized society. The perpetrators, no matter what power or political influence they wield, should be brought to justice,” he said.
De Castro said the government should immediately take a direct hand at restoring law and order in Maguindanao.
“These acts of violence are more despicable considering that no respect whatsoever was given to media men,” said De Castro, a former broadcast journalist.
He called on police and military authorities to purge their ranks and hold to account the politicians responsible for the mass murder.
The Vice President also said utmost protection should be extended to all eyewitnesses in order to ensure the prosecution of the perpetrators.
“Let justice be done at all cost,” he said.
Teodoro likewise called for the dismantling of private armies and the reinforcement of police and military forces in Maguindanao.
“We can’t do this by shortcut,” he said. “Only [police and military] presence can solve this security problem.”
Declared Teodoro: “I condemn in the strongest possible terms this lunacy that occurred in Maguindanao... I can come up with no justification or idea ... to comprehend what made a person do this.”
He said the authorities should arrest the perpetrators “whoever they may be.”
“Even if they are political allies, they should be punished if they are found liable,” he said.
Arroyo to blame
According to militant party-list lawmakers, the President is to blame for the situation in Maguindanao.
Akbayan Rep. Walden Bello said Ms Arroyo was answerable for the mass murder because of her support for the Ampatuans.
“Her office exercises oversight functions on provincial governments. More important, Malacañang’s coddling of [Maguindanao] Governor Ampatuan as a political ally has contributed to the culture of impunity surrounding his rule,” Bello said in a statement.
Anakpawis Rep. Rafael Mariano blamed Ms Arroyo for the “warlordism” in the country, specifically her tolerance of the Ampatuans’ private army.
“The culture of impunity and violence under the Arroyo [administration] appears to lead to societal collapse... It is highly condemnable that this barbaric act happened [even with] the heightened presence of state security forces in the area,” Mariano said.
Bayan Muna Rep. Satur Ocampo said the Monday massacre was a challenge to the President because she had to ensure a thorough inquiry of even her close allies.
He said the killings also showed the administration’s “utter incompetence” in preventing the proliferation of armed groups.
“This is a challenge to [Ms Arroyo’s] political will since this is the biggest election-related violence... The moral and political responsibility is that there should be a very thorough investigation to identify those responsible,” Ocampo said.
He also said the military and police should be held liable for allowing armed groups to operate and carry out criminal acts.
Gabriela Rep. Liza Maza said Ms Arroyo should see to it that the violence in Maguindanao would not set the tone for the rest of the election season.
Maza also said the killings showed that women were “the most vulnerable in the mad scramble for power during elections,” and that it was not true, as often believed, that women would be spared from harm because of their gender.
Anak Mindanao Rep. Mujiv Hataman said the massacre was unprecedented in the history of election violence in Mindanao.
Challenge from Senate
Senators also dared the President to go after the Ampatuans.
Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr. and Senators Panfilo Lacson, Rodolfo Biazon, Alan Peter Cayetano, Pia Cayetano and Francis Pangilinan called on her to send in the military, disarm and “shoot if necessary” the perpetrators of the crime.
Pimentel also called for the immediate detention of ARMM Governor Ampatuan as a “material witness,” saying he had learned that the latter was in Manila and was even at the Palace the other day.
Lacson, who was among the senatorial candidates who got a zero vote in Maguindanao during the 2007 polls, said in a statement: “Such senseless killing and violence must be dealt with firmly just to show the rule of law can still prevail in a part of the country where the Ampatuans act like gods.”
Pangilinan called on the Palace not to condone lawless elements and their criminal acts.
“What kind of a government is this [that] fails to protect its own people?” he said. Reports from Gil C. Cabacungan Jr., Niña Calleja, Christine O. Avendaño, Cynthia D. Balana and Leila B. Salaverria