The story is still unfolding. However, the initial news indicate that there happened a massacre of Mangudadatu clan members, political supporters of Buluan vice-mayor Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu, accompanying mediamen, and other civilians. The total may reach more than 40 people in all. All of them were forcibly abducted in broad daylight as they proceeded to Shariff Aguak town to file Mangudadatu’s certificate of candidacy. Those whose bodies had already been recovered were beheaded, and some were reportedly ran over by vehicles.
This brutal and grisly act, blamed on the opposing Ampatuan clan, is unparalleled in the annals of Philippine elections. It should be condemned in the strongest terms. There is no excuse for the government and for the Arroyo administration–even as it is guilty itself for tolerating and even coddling human rights violators–not to crack down hard on the perpetrators of this massacre.
However, it is cautionary to see if such a crackdown–in the name of regaining control and maintaining peace and order–will result in real justice for the victims and solve the conflict in Maguindanao. It is cautionary to see if it will not result in actual shielding of the perpetrators and white-washing of the incident. Lastly, it is cautionary to see if the situation is actually the latest spark in the endless plots to create an emergency situation that can be used for setting aside the 2010 elections.
The key elements to watch out for in the next days to come are: 1) if the AFP and the police disarm the armed Ampatuan clan and arrest, charge, and actually convict the perpetrators of the massacre; and 2) if more incidents happen that would portray a nationwide breakdown in peace and order.
It is no secret that the ascension of Mr. Norberto Gonzalez to the Defense portfolio, if only as an acting secretary, has caused apprehension because of his penchant for unconstitutional suggestions on how Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and her Malacañang gang can remain in power. The recent sporadic bombings in Metro Manila and this Maguindanao incident are not related, or are they?