The Maguindanao Massacre, perspective from political science (Part 1) - Miriam Coronel Ferrer

WAYS OF SPECIES | By Miriam Coronel Ferrer

Posted at Jan 22 2010 12:56 AM | Updated as of Jan 22 2010 08:56 AM

The state is a central variable in political analysis. In a cause-effect relationship, it is often studied as a cause, meaning because of its characteristics, certain outcomes can be expected or at least explained after the fact.

What features of the Philippine state can help us see why such an atrocity as the November 23, 2009 Maguindanao massacre happened? Political scientists who have studied Philippine politics provide us with useful concepts and frameworks to answer this question.

Because of the spotlight on the Ampatuan warlord-clan, the prime suspects in the gruesome massacre that killed almost 60 people in one incident, John Sidel’s framework called” bossism” first comes to mind.


“Bosses” are local strongmen who liberally use coercion to enrich and entrench themselves in politics. Through the proverbial guns, goons and gold of Philippine elections, they are able to take political power and further accumulate wealth.

Bosses who engage in illegal activities thrive in peripheral places where state control is weak and economic development lags behind. Maguindanao, a province described by UP Institute of Islamic Studies dean Julkipli Wadi as a “political void,” typifies such a place. The Ampatuan bossmen led by the patriarch Andal, Sr. occupied the power vacuum in the province and through them the national government exercised its rule. This is not to say that only such bosses are potentially in the position to do so. The Moro revolutionary groups have been trying to claim the space in Muslim-dominated provinces for the last 40 years but clan-based bosses have so far had the upperhand.

Local bosses are able to entrench themselves to become political dynasties by “holding the fort” for the center. In turn they are able to get a slice of the national state’s resources and powerful protection. These sources of strength give them even more license to use violence. The Ampatuans apparently perceived that the license included physically eliminating threats to their political shelf life so that after Andal, Sr. would have exhausted his three continuous terms as Maguindanao governor, his son, Andal, Jr., can take his place.

To be fair, not only the Ampatuans are engaged in this business of physically eliminating competitors. This early, several other candidates have already been killed in what promises to be one of the most violent elections we will experience in our lifetime. The only difference is in the grossly indiscriminate and blatant manner that the Ampatuans now stand accused of doing.


Another framework that has been applied in different ways to the Philippine state is the “patrimonial state.” The sociologist Max Weber described a patrimonial state as one where relationships are defined by personal considerations and connections. Here, leaders’ particularistic interests prevail over that of the nation.

In the Philippines, a patrimonial relationship operates not only between the state (elected officials, bureaucrats) and groups or people in society (economic groups, voters) but also between the national and local governments.

How did this mutually beneficial patronage tie between the center and the local operate in the case of Maguindanao? In this instance, the president’s interest was electoral victory for her in 2004 and for her party in 2007, which the Ampatuan helped deliver to her. Ampatuan in turn was amply rewarded with funds from the different government agencies, guns from the DILG and AFP, and freedom to dispense with the province’s Internal Revenue Allotment as the family pleased.

The patronage relationship is further replicated within the local government. That the loyalty of the local police, military commanders, and election and other local government officials in Maguindanao was to the persons of the Ampatuans, and not to the rule of law nor the sanctity of the election, shows how perversely they have consolidated their power base.

A patrimonial state lacks procedural predictability, policy rationality or consistency because personal profit rather than reason guide the state’s impulse. In the hands of rapacious government officials and economic interests who seek to maximize their selfish gains from the state, sustained economic development becomes impossible. Poverty and unemployment persist. What better imagery to show this pervasive rent-seeking and corruption taking place at the national and local levels than the sight of the Ampatuan and Arroyo mansions amidst the poverty of their constituents.

Paul Hutchcroft introduced the concept of “booty capitalism” to describe the predatory relationship between economic forces and Philippine state agencies. Such type of capitalism cannot allow for the flourishing of an entrepreneurial class that would spur long-term economic growth. In similar vein, Walden Bello described the Philippines as an “anti-developmental state.”

Way back in the 1950s, Carl Lande drew attention to the patron-client relationship that governs Philippine elections. Lande credited it for the relative political stability of the two-party electoral system – which however collapsed with the declaration of martial law in 1972.

Lande differed from Sidel’s bossism in one significant aspect. For Lande, benign reciprocity supposedly defined the relationship between the patron and client, while Sidel emphasized the coercive nature of the ties that bound the two.

I think reciprocity and coercion do not necessarily cancel each other. Both features operate in different ways from one province or municipality to another, or from one time frame and political clan to another. Ampatuan and Macapagal-Arroyo liberally employed both carrot and stick to tame oppositors and keep loyalists loyal, although of course, the Ampatuan in faraway Maguindanao had less qualms about shooting, skinning or even chain-sawing those who stood in their way.

Meanwhile, some sociologists use “neopatrimonialism” to highlight the fact that the nature of the goods being exchanged between patron and client have changed. From jobs and other favors, even bigger goods are now bartered – for example, infrastructure and development funds, facile release of the local government’s Internal Revenue Allotment, even wholesale election-cheating.

Patrimonialism as a conceptual tool has yet to be applied more systematically in the study of political violence in the Philippines. The scholars we cited above applied it to the study of political economy and election dynamics. How has this kind of patrimonial state led to the armamentation and militarization of politics, warlordism, impunity, and corruption and politicization of the security sector, all of which account for the alarmingly high level of political violence today? This is a question that hopefully some scholars will take up.

(To be continued)

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