The big news in the Philippines today is the decision of the Department of Justice (DOJ) to drop multiple murder charges against two members of the Ampatuan clan who were tagged in the brutal Nov. 23, 2009 Maguindanao massacre.
The Philippine Daily Inquirer reports that Acting Justice Secretary Alberto Agra justified the dropping of murder charges against the two Ampatuans due to purported alibis and the absence of conspiracy with and among them. Due to the DOJ decision, Zaldy Ampatuan, the suspended governor of the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao, and his cousin Akmad Ampatuan, a former vice governor of Maguindanao, would now just have to wait for a judge’s order for them to walk free.
As soon as word about the DOJ decision spread last night, the chatter on Twitter turned into righteous indignation, bewailing the government prosecutors’ decision and charging that the proclamation of martial law supposedly to contain allegedly restive armed elements of the Ampatuans who were out to deny victims’ their due under the law. They appear to be right. The so-called Ampatuan rebellion that was used to justify martial law just made President Arroyo look good as if doing anything meaningful and substantial. It turns out that martial law may have been part of a ruse to make the public believe Mrs. Arroyo shares the victims’ families’ and the public’s demand for justice. Today, we begin to see the beginnings of the Ampatuans’ trek to total freedom from prosecution.
This latest “development” reflects badly on the state of affairs in the so-called “twilight” of the Arroyo presidency. We cannot discount the possibility that deals may have been made behind closed doors between factotums of the government and the still-powerful Ampatuans, especially as the Philippines inches closer to the important May 10 elections. What evil plan they may have had agreed on, we can only guess. In a tight presidential contest where Arroyo’s chosen successor Gilbert Teodoro is not performing well, we could perhaps guess that the Arroyos and Ampatuans may wield the votes of Maguindanao and the ARMM — known as bastions of electoral cheating since the fraudulent 2004 presidential elections – to the disadvantage of people desiring to politically punish Arroyo and the Ampatuans via the ballot box.
Let this be a warning to those who live in their own personal worlds where they wallow in political naivette, and to those afflicted with the illness which compels them, sans reason, to always give the Arroyo government the so-called “benefit of the doubt”. Their giving Arroyo endless “second chances” and asking all of us to forgive and forget — yes, I am referring to those who blindly support Arroyo to those who always wish to brand activism as outdated has brought us all here. Sometimes, it makes me believe that they are accomplices to the Arroyo’s continuing crimes by letting her go unchallenged.
At this time, we fully sympathize with the victims’ families who we all expect to condemn this DOJ decision. Ditto for the organizations of journalists whose ranks were thinned and shocked by the massacre. The DOJ decision is a serious setback to the cause of justice, and a victory for the impunity of political warlordism personified by the Ampatuans.
All eyes are now on the judge hearing the murder case whether the DOJ decision would be upheld. If the judge upholds it, the two Ampatuans go scot-free.