The recent massacre of 30 civilians, including media men, may just be the first in a new cycle of violence that can heighten as the May elections draw near.
MANILA - The sensational killing of members of the Mangudadatu clan and members of the media is not the only act of violence attributed to Maguindanao governor Andal Ampatuan.
The Ampatuan family patriarch has long proven to locals that he has the capacity to sow terror.
Back in 2003, another rival family, the Candaos, also accused him of murdering one of their own—Abdulkadir Candao, elder brother of former Maguindanao governor Zacaria Candao. In the gubernatorial race 2 years earlier, Ampatuan defeated Zacaria, then the incumbent governor of the province. (Read: It’s all about power)
There were other acts of violence attributed to the old man. In 1988, Surab Abutasil, who ran against Andal for Mayor of Maganoy, was gunned down inside a restaurant in Shariff Aguak shortly before the elections.
Abutasil was a relative of Andal's first wife. Andal was the primary suspect in the case; charges were filed against him but these did not prosper. (Read: Military-Sponsored Warlord)
Locals say the manner by which the early killings were committed has resulted in a climate of fear in the province. In Maguindanao, they say, nobody in his right mind would dare go against the Ampatuans.
Ties with the military
An elementary school dropout who barely finished Grade 4, Andal Ampatuan owes his rise to power in part to his cozy ties with the military.
The relationship started way back during the Marcos regime when he was still vice-mayor of Maganoy (now Shariff Aquak) in Maguindanao. At the time when the town of Maganoy was almost about to be overrun by the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), Ampatuan placed his bet with the military.
The military, in turn, cultivated the alliance by supporting Ampatuan and arming his vigilantes. The relationship was such that when the Estrada government waged all out war against the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in the late 90s, Ampatuan was picked as the ideal candidate to beat Candao, a suspected MILF supporter.
Ampatuan easily trounced Candao in the 2001 polls. Candao later complained that government troops refused to allow his poll watchers into the precincts of some towns.
A military source privy to local political dynamics in Maguindanao said the support continues to this day.
Cafgu and CVOs
Ampatuan, the source said, has a virtual army of at least 500 armed civilians.
This includes 2 special auxiliary units of the Citizen Armed Forces Geographical Units (CAFGU) that the army in the area detailed to the provincial governor and hundreds of armed civilian volunteers.
The Maguindanao governor also benefited from a memorandum issued by Interior and Local Government Secretary Ronaldo Puno in 2006 authorizing the civilian volunteer organizations (CVOs) in Mindanao to bear arms.
Aside from this, there are also soldiers from units not assigned to Maguindanao who are detailed with Ampatuan, the military source said.
Observers are concerned that the sensational murder of Ismael Mangudadatu’s wife, sisters, staff and the media practitioners, will just be the beginning of a blood bath that may escalate further as the 2010 elections draw near.
What further concerns them is that government troops might be caught in the middle of a raging feud.
Military spokesperson Romeo Brawner earlier said that militiamen deputized as government guards by Ampatuan's family were the ones who staged the kidnapping of the Mangudadatu clan members.
Prior to the reported abduction, CVOs and CAFGUs under Ampatuan’s control were reported to have been detailed along the road from Shariff Aguak to the municipalities of Ampatuan and Datu Sangki, supposedly to secure the route for those filing candidacy.
Since getting elected in 2001, Ampatuan has kept Maguindanao under a tight grip.
Observers, however, said he thrives because he is able to deliver crucial votes to whatever party in power. (Read: Guns, Fealty, and Money)
Those familiar with local politics in Maguindanao say Ampatuan reached the apex of his power under the Arroyo administration, owing to the role he played a key role in Arroyo’s victory in the 2004 elections.
In 2004, Arroyo garnered a total of 193,938 votes from Maguindanao’s 27 towns while closest rival Fernando Poe Jr., got only 59,892 votes.
Poe did not get a single vote in 3 Maguindanao towns.
Arroyo supposedly returned the favor in 2005 by allowing Ampatuan to field his son, then Shariff Aguak mayor Zaldy Ampatuan for governor of the Autonomous Region in Maguindanao (ARMM). Zaldy is the first leader who had no links to any of the rebel groups in the area to ever acquire the title. He was reelected to his second term in 2008.
In 2007, Ampatuan once again demonstrated his dogged loyalty to the administration when he delivered to the administration’s Team Unity a 12-0 sweep in Maguindanao.
In the same poll, 19 candidates, including members of the Genuine Opposition, received not a single vote from 20 of Maguindanao’s 22 municipalities.
Ampatuan at the time ran uncontested for reelection as governor of the province. So did several members of his family.
The 2010 elections, however, will be a critical one for the Ampatuan family.
The term Andal Ampatuan won in 2007 was supposed to be his third and last as governor of the province. Law bars him from running for a fourth term.
Those familiar with Maguindanao politics say this opens the field for other potential contenders for the gubernatorial seat because none of the sons were seen to wield the same clout as the father.
Indeed, last year, the Mangudadatus went to Shariff Aguak to inform the senior Ampatuan that a member of the clan would vie for the gubernatorial post in 2010, according an abs-cbnNEWS.com/ Newsbreak's military source who is familiar with politics in the area.
Until recently, the Mangudadatus were close allies of the Ampatuans. (Read: All in the Family)
The father of vice mayor Ismael "Toto" Mangudadatu, former Buluan mayor Pua Mangudadatu, was one of 4 key allies of Ampatuan clan patriarch Andal Ampatuan, when the latter was just starting to flex his political muscles.
The senior Ampatuan, however, reportedly wants one of his sons to succeed him as provincial governor, according to the abs-cbnNEWS.com/ Newsbreak source.
This and the fact that the Mangudadatus brought with them about 200 fully armed men, during the visit to Shariff Aguak displeased the Ampatuans and sparked animosity between the two clans.
What could make clan war between the Mangudadatus and the Ampatuans particularly bloody is the fact that the original victims included women.
Women, like children and the elderly, are traditionally seen as defenseless and therefore untouchable in 'rido', an armed hostilities between families and kinship groups. Women may be collateral damage, but not the target.
Because of this women are normally able to penetrate places were nobody would go, even being sent to retrieve the bodies of relatives who got killed.
A woman's murder during a rido usually commands a higher price in blood money. Thus, unless a rido started with the murder of a woman, a man is often considered a coward if he retaliates by killing a woman. (Read: Women Who Dare)
Madaser "Toy" Mangudadato, a member of regional legislative assembly of ARMM, told ANC, "We sent all our ladies, including our eldest sister and the youngest sister, and some of our relatives who are all women, believing to ourselves that [the Ampatuans] cannot harm them because they are women."
They assumed wrong. "Napakalaking pagkakamali yung nangyari sa amin sapagkat wala pala silang sinasanto, mapabata, mapababae, pinapatay nila (It was a big mistake because the Ampatuans did not spare the women. They killed our women," Toy added.
The Mangudadatus and the Ampatuans are both influential clans in the area.
Ismael Mangudadatu is the nephew of Pax Mangudadatu, former governor–now congressman—of Sultan Kudarat province. His cousin, Teng Mangudadatu (son of Pax) is currently incumbent Sultan Kudarat governor.
Sultan Kudarat shares a border with the province of Maguindanao.
The prospect of further clashes between the two clans has prompted Presidential Adviser on Mindanao Jesus Dureza to push for a declaration of state of emergency in Maguindanao. – abs-cbnNEWS.com/ Newsbreak