by Ram Maxey
THOSE were shots figuratively “heard” around the world. I’m referring to the infamous so-called Maguindanao Massacre last November 23 near the border of Shariff Aguak and Ampatuan towns in the province of Maguindao. No further need for me to describe the horrible, terrible scene of carnage in which 57 innocent men and women along with 30 journalists (among them my friend Bong Reblando of The Manila Bulletin) were shot and/or hacked to death by armed followers of Datu Unsay mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr. Is there anyone in this country who hasn’t read or heard about that gory incident?
For that matter, millions of people around the globe were shocked to learn of the mass murder, and their feeling of revulsion was universal. To call the killings “animalistic” is an insult to animals who only kill other animals for reasons of food or defense of their territory, which is a matter of survival of the species, nothing more.
The Maguindanao Massacre was a matter of political survival of one Muslim clan against another Muslim clan, nothing more. But what a way to do it. With political survival comes economic security. But, of course, what else? Have you seen the mansions of the Ampatuans within gated enclaves? Where do you suppose they got all the money that went into their construction? Where do you suppose they got all those sophisticated firearms in their arsenals? Recoiless rifles…60mm and 81 mm mortar tubes…machineguns…thousands of rounds of ammunition, etcetera, enough to arm a small army of mercenaries who have to be paid and fed!
Which brings us to the existence of so-called private armies and the warlords they serve. And the Maguindanao Massacre. The Republic of the Philippines is a country of many other republics with their own armed forces. There is the republic of the Moro National Liberatiion Front (MNLF). The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). The Communist Party of the Philippines/National Democratic Front/New People’s Army, or CPP/NDF/NPA for short. These armed groups have staked out what they refer to as “their territories”. Then, there is the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) with a defined area of responsibility. Last, but not necessarily the least, are the enclaves of certain politicians who command their own private armies.
Mind you, all the foregoing actually exist in this country today, as if you didn’t know. Republics within a republic. Are there private armies in the United States of America? Great Britain? Germany? France? Russia? China? Japan?, so forth and so on? Wonder no more. Onli in da Pilipins. That’s where. Let’s not blame only President Arroyo for the existence of private armies. Let’s blame all the presidents before her who did not have the political will to dismantle the private armies of their time.
Except President Ramon Magsaysay, who did not live long enough to do something about it, having lost his life on Mt, Manunggal in Cebu where the military plane he was aboard crashed, killing all aboard, except newspaperman Nestor Mata who sat at the tail-end of the plane which broke off upon impact. That saved his life. When, after two days following the Maguindanao Massacre, President Arroyo pussyfooted on what to do about the situation, I told myself that if Magsaysay were our president, he would have acted much earlier by ordering the armed forces and the national police to immediately dismantle all so-called private armies. He demonstrated his decisiveness when, as defense secretary under President Elpidio Quirino, he flew to Negros Occidental after Moises Padilla, candidate for mayor of Magallon town, was brutally killed by henchmen of Governor Lacson. Magsaysay himself carried the lifeless, bloody body of Padilla and later caused the arrest and trial of Lacson and his henchmen for murder.
Eversince, I have longed to have a president of this country someone with Magsaysay’s guts and decisiveness. The former mechanic was truly a man of action who was loved by his countrymen to the point of sending him to Malacanang after defeating Quirino’s reelection bid. I remember the line in his campaign song: “Our democracy will die, kung wala si Magsaysay!” And the sliogan: “Magsaysay is Our Guy!” In times like this, we need another Magsaysay. He really was our guy.