The Maguindanao massacre (or Ampatuan massacre, some would say) death toll has, as of today has risen to 59, 28 of them members of the mass media (one is still missing). By any measure, this is an unprecedented assault on Philippine democracy and on press freedom.
It can also be termed now as a crime against humanity, as defined internationally. Bar the formal processes of the court, there is already strong evidence that it was perpetrated by persons in authority, used state resources, targeted unarmed and defenseless civilians, and used cruel, inhumane, and unusual punishment. It would have been genocide if a pattern can be established that it targets a particular section or sector in society.
It must be remembered that complicity in the crime against humanity, particularly by the state authorities, is established even when they do nothing or do not exert enough effort to prevent or stop the crime. The responsibility of the state is clear here: Use the full authority and powers of the state to stop the crime and render justice and assistance to the victims.
The actions of the Arroyo government leaves much to be desired and must be condemned. One, it did not suspend or remove from positions of authority those members of the Ampatuan clan even as the circumstances clearly showed that the crime was committed within the context of a clan conflict. Two, the declaration of the state of emergency, while at first glance seems a logical move, actually favors the Ampatuans–it enables them to use the police and the military for protection from retaliation and basically maintains the present Ampatuan hold on the area. Three, except for negotiations to have Mayor Andal Ampatuan, Jr. arrested, there was virtually no attempt to arrest more Ampatuans who were party to the crime, notably Governor Andal Ampatuan, Sr., who was already reported publicly warning the Mangudadatus not to field a candidate for governorship since a week before and whose provincial government’s backhoe was found at the scene of the crime. Four, there was no credible attempt to disarm the Ampatuans and their clan army (distributed and hidden in the various army, police, CAFGU, and CVO military and paramilitary units in the province)–the weapons shown in the television as having been “surrendered” by CAFGUs are WWII obsolete types and not the modern M16s used in the crime. Five, the whole action of the Arroyo government, even though the excuse of “due process” may be valid, was excruciatingly slow and deliberately courteous–a stark contrast in how they (man)handled the case of oppositionist radio commentator Ted Failon.
There are signs that the Arroyo government is actively playing a covering role for the Ampatuans and that what we are witnessing is an elaborate shadow play meant to blunt the global condemnation of the Maguindanao massacre and to prevent the leap to a condemnation of the Arroyo government itself.
It does not help that reports are coming out that Malacañang, including President Arroyo herself, was active right before the massacre in brokering the clan conflict between the erstwhile allies. The reports say that the brokering was one-way, with Malacañang offering senior posts in the national government and huge amount of money to the Mangudadatus to agree to the senior Andal Ampatuan’s emphatic demand for the Mangudadatus not to field a candidate for governor post.
If true, then Malacañang does not play a clean hand in the handling of the Maguindanao massacre. It may even be accused of complicit behavior in this crime against humanity. The international laws say that complicity and actual commission of crimes against humanity are treated in the same manner.
Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and her government now stands accused of the crime against humanity in the international court of public opinion.