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Peace in the Pearl of the Orient Seas

“I only wish a clean politics”, lamented Maguindanao 12 year old girl in an interview by ABS-CBN correspondence about the declaration of Martial Law in Maguindanao province five days after the Maguindanao massacre. “What do you mean by clean politics?” asked the journalist surprisingly. “I mean politics with no killings”, she replied with no fear in her voice.

I could see myself in the face of this young girl reminding me of my childhood days in my Muslim hometown in Mindanao. I spent my elementary days and two years of college in our Muslim community public school and university. My classmates were both Muslims and Christians. All my teachers in my elementary grades were all Muslims.

My growing up with my Muslim community is very memorable. I played joyfully under shades of big green acacia trees with my Muslim classmates and friends. All my Muslim girls classmates had long hairs gel with coconut oil. I studied and learned together with them inside wooden classrooms without any feeling of discrimination and fear.

I can still remember beautiful faces of my dedicated and loving teachers who were so patient in teaching and caring for us as our second parents. My teachers always enjoyed playing with us during school games. I can’t forget my new Muslim teacher in Grade V when she asked my name and said to me with admiration “What a beautiful name you’ve got !”.

For the first time, I felt so proud of my name and feel so happy for such an admiration from my teacher. And from that time on, I began to love my name and realized how beautiful my name was. I’m so thankful of my father for giving me such a name and my Muslim teacher for recognizing such.

I can’t remember any traumatic memories with my Muslim community contrary to what non-Muslims ideas propagated that a “good Moro is only a dead Moro”. Thanks for my “Muslim History” class in college which opened my eyes to the realities of Moro people in my country and their struggle for self determination.

Since Spanish colonial times the Moro people resisted foreign occupation. Men as well as women fought fearlessly to defend their land. But some of their leaders were co-opted by colonial and domestic governments in exploiting the Muslim population and the island’s resources. Such was the case of the Ampatuan warlord clans and other elite warlords in Mindanao who enriched themselves from the sweat and blood of ordinary Moro people.

The struggle for self determination of the Moro people continues as national governments and their local warlord cohorts continue to crash Muslims and other indigenous villages resisting atrocities and exploitation.

Declaration Of Martial Law In Maguindanao

“ Martial Law aims to quell the presence of heavily armed groups in Maguindanao that have established positions to resist government in enforcing the law with regard to the massacre of 57 people” , the president stated .

Three to four thousands of military combat troops were sent immediately to the province. Military took over the government institutions and arrested about sixty two suspected Ampatuan’s clan members and private armies involved in the carnage including Datu Andal Ampatuan Jr. At least twenty four people were charged of rebellion including seven Ampatuan clans.

Forensic investigations of evidences in the gravesites were cancelled immediately hampering the gathering of evidences against the Ampatuans.

Massive exodus of residents was very disheartening due to fear of heavy military presence. Thousands of military alongside the highway conducted checkpoints inspecting passengers and motorists.

Deafening silence took over the high pitch voices of school children reciting and singing in elementary schools. Echoing sounds of coins, beeping of passenger vehicles horns, voices of ambulant vendors and customers in the public and market places were not heard anymore. Business shops were closed. Some schools were used as camps of the military.

Thousands of high powers guns and hundred of thousands caches of ammo were confiscated by the military from the Ampatuans armory and hiding places. All the arms and ammo bore markings owned by the Philippine government as reported by Lt.Gen. Raymundo Ferrer, the Chief of the Eastern Mindanao Command.

The open declaration of Martial Law in Maguindanao sparked strong public protest. Lawyers, human rights advocates and journalists including myself criticized the declaration of Martial Law as unconstitutional. It was the first declaration of Martial Law in modern thirty year after the Marcos Dictatorship in the 70’s and 80’s.

The Philippine Constitution Section 18, Article VII states that martial law can only be declared in cases of rebellion or invasion and only when public safety demands it.
“There is absolutely no factual basis for the proclamation of martial law in Maguindanao because no situation of rebellion or invasion exists there. The presence of “heavily armed groups” under the control of the Ampatuans in Ampatuan, Maguindanao does not constitute rebellion. The regular government agencies are intact and normal process of law enforcement should be put into operation to arrest and punish the elements involved in the brutal murder of civilians including media personnel and lawyers, most of them women”, according to the joint statement of Integrated Bar of the Philippines-Iloilo and Bayan-Panay

Congress and Senate convened for the first time for a joint session to vote for the legitimacy or illegitimacy of the declaration of Martial Law. The President as the Commander –In-Chief was absent during the joint session. The debate was very intense and emotional between the antis and the pros making me so engaged in front of the television set. I couldn’t help myself but feel so scared of what will be the next scenario.

However, I was surprised when President Arroyo lifted Martial Law in Maguindanao this Saturday, December 12. She decided to lift Martial Law before the Senate and Congress session resume Monday to vote for the legitimacy or illegitimacy of the declaration of Martial Law.

I was made to think why so early she lifted Martial Law considering that majority of the House is her allies. Aha! I said to myself, for sure she and her advisers were pressured by the strong public protest both inside and outside the country.

The President Press Secretary Cerge Remonde was quick to defend that the lifting was caused primarily of their victory in giving justice to the massacre victims. Lt. General Raymundo Ferrer reported the declaration of Martial Law provided the full force of the law in arresting suspects of the massacre.

Justice Is Illusive

But where is justice? Doubts tower over in the minds of the Filipino people if justice will be served for the massacre victims. Witnesses surfaced everyday and tell horrible stories of how Ampatuan Jr. killed the victims. Stories were told of how Ampatuan Sr. trained children assassins to kill their political rivals and even killed his own son because of defiance against his will.

Massacre is not new to them. In 2001, they massacred one Muslim village of 200 populations who resisted against their land grabbing activites. They spared no one including women and children. They burned the houses; chain sawed and flattened the people alive by roadwork vehicles.

These expressions only tell that barbaric killings and massacre were games the Ampatuans used to play against those who challenged their powers. A crime that is being brought about since Spanish colonial times, tolerated by past administrations and reinforced by the Arroyo government in exchange of political favors such as rigging the election for Mrs. Arroyo victory in 2004 and her senatorial slate in 2007. The Ampatuan clans with their private armies were supporting the US-Arroyo sponsor war against the Muslim resistance for self-determination.

In 2006, Arroyo issued Executive Order No. 546, which allowed the country’s warlord clans, including the Ampatuans, to skirt the constitutional ban on private armed groups. While allowing local government units (LGUs) to deputize barangay tanods (village watchmen) as “force multipliers” in the counter-insurgency campaign, EO 546 has given local officials the leeway to have their private armies legalized into what are called “civilian volunteer organizations” (CVOs).

Deep in my heart I feared that justice will remain illusive under the present dispensation.
The Arroyo government did not and will never serve justice to the victims unless it will give her more benefits. The culture of impunity will continue under the Arroyo administration. If remain in power beyond 2010, many more lives will be taken by this monstrous government using warlords with their private armies and hired for gums as cohorts in perpetuating themselves in power.

Justice has never been served to many victims of political killings and enforced disappearances like my first husband, my friends Nilo and Luing and thousands many more.

Justice has never been served to innocent civilians like my younger brother killed by a military man in a motorbike accident seven years ago and the killing of my brother- in- law two years ago by unknown assassin suspected as para-military in my homeland Mindanao . I have two nephews and two nieces orphaned at the very young ages and continue seeking justice for their fathers.

I believe justice can only be served in a government that really cares for its people and for women and children. I will work and fight for this kind of government that will give justice to my beloved ones, to the women and men who laid down their lives for us and for our children.

The loving memories of my loved ones, my friends and colleagues in the Maguindanao massacre, the image of the 12 year old Maguindanao young girl and the images of my two beautiful nieces and nephews who want justice for their fathers inspired me in giving light in the darkness of the night. I will be there with them till the sunrises for a new day and a new beginning.

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