Young officers will be made to believe that the military can rule effectively where civilian governance has failed
As the cameras rolled, a young Army lieutenant flagged down a vehicle carrying a known Ampatuan supporter. Are you carrying firearms, he yelled, as his troops searched the car.
We have no guns, said one of the passengers, who introduced himself as a vice mayor of a town in Maguindanao. By the time he had uttered those words, the search had reached the handbag of a woman, probably his wife, which yielded a small gun.
Peeved that a lowly local executive could lie to him under the circumstances, the young lieutenant ordered all passengers out of the car and, as the cameras rolled again, gave the vice mayor a dressing down. In crude Filipino, the young officer blustered: “You’re supposed to be an honorable man, but you lied. We have made clear that no guns are allowed. Did you expect us to respect you now with that you’ve done?”
This was Maguindanao days before the government imposed martial law in the province.
I can guess where this young lieutenant’s coming from. He was probably plucked from a neighboring war-torn province in Mindanao, where local executives flirt with rebels, insurgents, and criminals, giving the Army a hard time. I can bet that at such a tender age in the military, he’s already been exposed to the wanton corruption and inefficiency of civilians in government.
I can also bet that 5 years down the road, this lieutenant will continue protesting the crooked ways of local politicians and at some point will have to make a choice for himself: to either join them or rebel against them.
It is easy to romanticize martial law, especially when it covers a limited area, as something the government must do to finish off a clan and bring to justice those responsible for the worst crime ever committed against non-combatants in recent history.
It is also easy to forget what—or who—really gets empowered by martial law. It is certainly not the judiciary, or a Cabinet department, or the barangay executives. As an Army colonel put it in an interview: “It was already ‘martial law’ in Maguindanao before government signed the declaration. We’ve been in control of the province since after the massacre.”
Of course, the generals will say that’s a lie. Over the last few days, joint police-military units have uncovered armories disguised as warehouses, sleek firearms, and thousands of ammunitions—all government-issued—that could rival the military’s. Authorities have been churning out classified information about the documented strength of the Ampatuans’ private armies—personnel, firepower, their hideouts.
Are they telling us they didn’t know?
In recent years, the bulk of police and military resources—logistics, intelligence, combat—have been geared toward key conflict areas in Muslim provinces, Maguindanao among them. Because intelligence is intense toward the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (whose base includes Maguindanao), it therefore becomes unthinkable for private warehouses and huge armories (even if underground) to be left undetected by security forces, unless they’re playing blind.
And any Army or police officer worth his salt will not deny that since 2001, no battalion, brigade or division commander or police director in the area got assigned without the blessings from the patriarch, suspended Gov. Andal Ampatuan Sr.
One proof of this is the case of an Army colonel, who had managed to prolong his stay in the area despite charges he had been pocketing Cafgu funds, among other questionable acts. It took an AFP-wide “cleansing” of the Cafgu battalions 2 years ago for him to be finally relieved from his juicy position of arming, training, and “disciplining” the Ampatuans’ Cafgus. Yet, the AFP dropped any charges against him even after a thorough probe.
Imagine him watching TV news nowadays from the comforts of his military desk. Imagine all cops and soldiers previously assigned to the province listening now to their superiors who, after each operation, express shock at the “mind-boggling” firepower of the Ampatuans.
Watching all these raids is akin to seeing a scorned but pampered wife finally—after many years of playing deaf and blind—confronting the other woman in her palatial home and confiscating all her jewelry.
It’s a sickening feeling, made worse by the fact that now deployed in Maguindanao are young officers—idealistic, passionate, patriotic to the core—who in due time will find out all about this. And who, because of martial law, will be made to believe that civilian governance has been an utter failure. And who, because of martial law, will be made to believe that indeed the military can rule—efficiently and effectively.
This isn’t some misplaced, unfounded fear. Just look at how the Gringo Honasans, the Danny Lims, the Sonny Trillaneses, and the Ariel Querubins began their journey as young men.
They grew up with practically the same combustible elements now raging in Maguindanao. They were once like that young lieutenant we saw on TV last week, confiscating the guns of a corrupt executive, damning his lies, and serving as government when all else failed.
It didn’t take long for them to take matters into their own hands and attempt to take over.
Glenda M. Gloria is the chief operating officer of the ABS-CBN News Channel and a trustee of Public Trust Media Group Inc.