The Big Mistake

The empty chamber of the General Assembly at the United Nations. (Getty Images)

As I suspected in the comments of a previous post, the case against Datu Unsay Mayor Andal Ampatuan Junior, who is suspected of killing 57 people in Philippine election related violence, is unlikely to prosper. The reason is simple. Junior is the son of Senior. And Senior is related to cabinet officials in the Arroyo administration. There are cousins and relatives all up and down the line. Hence the prospect of Junior ever walking the last mile to gurney is somewhere between slim and none. Jojo Robles of the Manila Standard writes:


Dureza, the presidential adviser on Mindanao affairs— who had already been fired as press secretary before—said he has visited the Ampatuans and secured a promise from them that they would “cooperate” with any investigation of the incident … laid the groundwork for what is now looking like a not-so-subtle scheme to get the Maguindanao warlord and his family off the hook for what is already being called the worst-ever mass killing in Philippine history outside of wartime. … announced that the palace was not going to arrest or even suspend Datu Unsay town Mayor Datu Andal Ampatuan Jr. “We have due process to be observed also, so let us allow the investigators on the ground to come up with [a case] through their investigation [first],” the intellectually challenged press secretary said yesterday.

Khalid Sheik Mohammed would be glad to know just how scrupulous the Western world is; that whether a perp is accused of killing 57 or 3,000 victims nothing must disturb the majestic progress of the law. Except that sometimes the law is used as an excuse to avoid, rather than to seek justice. Virtues are invoked to preserve vice; and when evil impersonates good, innocence is sometimes forced to come forward to identify itself. Right now innocence is being played for a sap. Consider the following statement from rival local politician Esmael Mangudadatu to the Telegraph about why he sent his wife into Junior’s lion’s den instead of going himself when he knew Junior had it in for him.


The gunmen waited for the six-vehicle convoy for two days and mass graves were already dug in advance.

Mangudadatu said he has received death threats from the Ampatuan clan and knew about a possible strike when registering his candidacy in advance.

He therefore delegated his wife Genalyn, two sisters, two women lawyers and a number of female supporters to register his candidacy on his behalf, believing that women would not be attacked.

“Under our tradition, Muslim women are being respected. They should not be harmed, just like innocent children and the elders,” Mangudadatu told local reporters an hour before the massacre.

However, the entire convoy, including 24 women, was murdered, with evidence that the women were also raped, tortured and beheaded. One of the women was pregnant.

The gunmen were in the process of burying the bodies in a shallow grave when they were disturbed by a helicopter nearby. It is feared that not all the bodies have been found.

If Mangudadatu were a European leftist I would put our old friend the “you can’t touch me, I’m protected by International Humanitarian Law” idiocy to be culpable for this miscalculation. But Mangudadatu being local knows the rules. He could not have seriously believed in the sanctity of anything  — that stuff’s for the consumption of Western readers —  in the context of the political warlord culture of Maguindanao.  The men who had predug a mass grave with a backhoe for both the vehicles and the people and who subsequently raped, tortured and beheaded their hapless victims were not men who momentarily and unaccountably lapsed from their Islamic observance, and who were otherwise pious and upstanding , but experienced villains to whom such depredations are second and possibly third and fourth nature. Mangudadatu should have had few illusions about the political clout Junior wielded and still less about the state of law and order.


It’s much more likely that the candidate elected to let his wife take the risk, calculating that if she and a whole raft of journalists were offed by Junior then he would stand to win the election. Smart eh? But as it turns out, he may have severely underestimated the corruption and venality of the Arroyo administration. Because it looks like they’re going to let Junior walk. Mangudadatu should never have made the error of thinking there were limits beyond which even his enemies could not go. In the world of the low life the only lawyers worth a damn are the partnership of Smith and Wesson.  The Philippine Star said as much in its editorial. You are never going to be judged by 12. About the best you can do is avoid being carried by six.

What is it about a small-town mayor that makes him warrant VIP treatment from top government officials? Three days after the Maguindanao massacre, the person tagged by the victims’ camp as the mastermind was finally taken into custody and held without bail for multiple murder. Datu Unsay Mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr. was flown to Manila after a meeting with Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, and then escorted by no less than the secretary of justice, who like Malacañang officials sounded like the lawyer for Ampatuan.

The mayor has been mollycoddled from the start, when the victims’ relatives started screaming his name after Genalyn Mangudadatu told her husband in a cell phone call the identities of the men who were about to butcher her. Top officials of the Philippine National Police, whose members routinely gun down suspects even before formal charges are filed, and sometimes even before a crime is committed, scrambled to find excuses not to arrest a man accused of murdering 57 people as of the latest count. The PNP chief cheerfully told the press that cops were in “hot pursuit” of Ampatuan but were waiting for him to surrender.


So what was Mangudadatu’s mistake? Believing that Maguindanao Muslim tradition “respected women” or believing that Gloria Macapagal Arroyo had hard ethical limits?  There’s a moral in there somewhere, if only in the realization that there ain’t a moral in there anywhere. It done got up and left town.

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