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More Than One Year On – What Has the National Government Learned About Its Failures In Maguindanao

Commentary by Red Batario


Tuesday, 18 January 2011

(The Philippine Public Transparency Reporting Project next week launches the first in a series
of events and reports on building accountability in Maguindanao with a public meeting in Davao
featuring Governor Esmael Mangudadatu and others. Today, we take an introductory look at
the official response to what was the most tragic and catastrophic failure of governance in
national history. The State failed the 58 victims of the November 23, 2009 massacre – those in
authority in Maguindanao are charged with involvement and complicity in their killing: Much was
promised and ordered investigated or changed since then by the central government in Manila
– but more than one year on, what has actually happened?)

In the immediate aftermath of the Maguindanao killings, the Office of the Ombudsman ordered
an investigation into the lifestyle of senior members of the Ampatuans, the hugely wealthy and
influential clan accused of orchestrating the massacre. Humphrey Monteroso, deputy
ombudsman for Mindanao was quoted in Sun Star Davao as saying his team was
investigating the family for possible violation of the country’s anti-graft and corruption laws. He
alleged that many of the properties and other assets of the clan, conservatively estimated at
PhP 3 billion (USD 68 million), were not declared in their Statement of Assets, Liabilities and
Net Worth (SALN).

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More Than One Year On – What Has the National Government Learned About Its Failures In Maguindanao?

Commentary by Red Batario


Tuesday, 18 January 2011

The team’s report was submitted to Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez in July 2010. Yet the
latest accomplishment report posted in its website has no word of any actions taken based on
the findings of the Maguindanao investigating team.

Why the long silence? When will the reports be made public? What were the substantive points
raised in relation to allegations of corruption given the widely-held notion that the Ampatuans
amassed their wealth while holding public office? Are there other ongoing investigations or
lifestyle checks in Maguindanao? What are the steps for releasing or accessing information with
regards similar investigations?

The Commission on Audit (COA) report on its financial audit of the province of Maguindanao for
2009 showed that “as of December 31, 2009, due to the non-preparation of Bank Reconciliation
Statements on all funds by the Auditee (Maguindanao)…the validity and reliability of the Cash in
Bank, Local Currency Current Account totaling P70,494,975.61 cannot be ascertained.”

The financial audit, posted in the COA website, also said that the “validity, existence and
accuracy of the Property, Plant and Equipment valued at P339,430,843.44 in the consolidated
balance sheet” cannot also be ascertained because the provincial government did not submit
the year end inventory report as required by law.

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More Than One Year On – What Has the National Government Learned About Its Failures In Maguindanao?

Commentary by Red Batario


Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Of five previous COA recommendations about remedies and reforms that the province should
undertake to avoid adverse audit findings, only one was ever implemented.

What happens if a province like Maguindanao simply ignores COA findings and
recommendations? If more than PhP 70-million (USD 1.6 million) cash in bank and more than
PhP 300-million (USD 6.8 million) in equipment and properties cannot be properly accounted
for, then where did all the money go? These were findings only for 2009; what about the
previous years? What other agencies should be involved in following through? What are the
mechanisms for inter- and intra-agency cooperation?

On June 30, 2010, the term of the Independent Commission against Private Armies (ICAPA),
created by the Arroyo Administration through Administrative Order 275 after the massacre
quietly came to an end.

The ICAPA, created to oversee the dismantling of Philippine private armies and provide policy
and action recommendations to the President and advise the Armed Forces of the Philippines
(AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP), has issued two resolutions, 001-10 and 002-10,
on March 24, 2010. The resolutions directed the two institutions to “increase efforts to disband
partisan armed groups in order to secure safe and credible elections in May 2010.”

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More Than One Year On – What Has the National Government Learned About Its Failures In Maguindanao?

Commentary by Red Batario


Tuesday, 18 January 2011

According to the ICAPA the Philippine National Police has reported the existence of 117 private
armed groups (PAG) with about 5,000 members in the Philippines with the Autonomous Region
in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) accounting for 25 of these groups.

The Human Rights Watch, an international human rights monitoring body, said in its 2010 report
on the Maguindanao massacre entitled They Own the People that “the AFP took up several of
these recommendations. It prepared an inventory of firearms provided to CAFGUs and Special
CAFGUs, which it submitted to the PNP.”

Human Rights Watch also said that the AFP issued policy directives banning partisan political
activities in military installations, prohibiting CAFGUs from working as bodyguards for politicians
and providing sanctions for military personnel violating the election gun ban or engaging in
partisan politics.

It also said that the ICAPA has reported that “as of May 2010, 35 out of the 107 existing private
armed groups in the country had been dismantled by the police and military, with 130 members
arrested and 127 firearms confiscated.”

But PNP intelligence officials have said that while a number of these PAGs have already been
neutralized, many others remain active, waiting for things to quiet down a bit.

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More Than One Year On – What Has the National Government Learned About Its Failures In Maguindanao?

Commentary by Red Batario


Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Shouldn’t the profiles of these “private armed groups” be made public? What about a more
restrictive policy on the possession and carrying of firearms?

The Commission on Human Rights (CHR), a constitutional body tasked to investigate all forms
of human rights violations, has regional and sub-regional offices all over the Philippines except
in the ARMM.

After the mass killings in Maguindanao, the CHR issued an advisory “on the need for effective,
timely, unequivocal and rights-based actions to protect human rights and bring violators to
justice” underscoring that the massacre of 58 persons is a violation of the right to life and the
security of person for every individual that was killed. It urged all relevant government bodies
and branches “to vigorously perform their mandates in the Constitution and in law to bring the
perpetrators to justice as soon as possible with due process of law and respect for the human
rights of victims, suspects, witnesses, the families of victims, and possible informants.”

But while strongly lashing out at state-sanctioned militias and armed groups, the CHR’s own
investigations were hampered by scant resources and the capacity of its own field personnel.

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More Than One Year On – What Has the National Government Learned About Its Failures In Maguindanao?

Commentary by Red Batario


Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Shouldn’t the CHR also investigate and report abuses committed by the so-called “private
armed groups” all over the country? Why not probe further persistent allegations of collusion
between the Ampatuans and members of security forces?

On another track, similar questions are being asked of the Department of Justice (DOJ) by
LIBERTAS, a group of lawyers undertaking a study on extrajudicial killings titled “Promoting
Human Rights-Based Access to Justice: Lessons from the Maguindanao Massacre”
supported by the Commission on Human Rights and the United Nations Development
Programme (UNDP).

The study cited in particular the weakness of the DOJ’s Witness Protection Program (WPP) that
has very stringent requirements made more cumbersome by a “long application process” and
the absence of “support for the families of witnesses.”

Phrased as recommendations, the study asked:

Can’t the “WPP be amended to expand (coverage) of those who are qualified (including) the
support it provides?” Why not “deputize civil society as implementers of WPPs?”

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More Than One Year On – What Has the National Government Learned About Its Failures In Maguindanao?

Commentary by Red Batario


Tuesday, 18 January 2011

There still are other nagging questions about the horrific massacre, the Ampatuans and their
stupendous wealth and wide-ranging influence, the obvious failure of democratic institutions to
respond to a crisis, and local governments under the control of one clan. These are questions
that clearly need answers such as why did the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) regional
office direct the transfer of its office from Cotabato City to Sharif Aguak shortly before November
23, 2009? Who authorized the transfer and why with seeming haste?

The recent filing of plunder charges against the Ampatuans by families of the massacre victims,
however, begs an even bigger question: Underlying all these is the issue of money, how it was
amassed by one powerful clan, how it was used to subvert democratic institutions, how it is still
being used to undermine the ongoing judicial process through varied and insidious ways such
as intimidating witnesses (or making them disappear without a trace).

In the complaint filed by the victims’ families, they alleged that the Ampatuans, while holding
public office, have amassed something like PhP 200 million (USD 4.5 million), a fleet of luxury
vehicles, 35 mansions in Maguindanao, Davao and other places in the country, painting “a
staggering picture of how one powerful clan could abuse their position of power and raid and
plunder public coffers as if these were their private purse.”

The Philippines has a very long history of patron-client relationships with provincial leaders
(mainly the caciques of yore) holding sway over the lives and dreams of their vassals and
acknowledging loyalty and fealty by the latter’s ability to deliver the votes come election time.
Things have not changed much: In areas like Maguindanao there exists what can best be
described as a “democracy deficit” where people have no power at all to decide their future.

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More Than One Year On – What Has the National Government Learned About Its Failures In Maguindanao?

Commentary by Red Batario


Tuesday, 18 January 2011

It has been a long-held observation that political bosses or kingpins in local areas are the
makers of presidents and this has been the norm since the first election was held in 1935 and
thus political power accrues to the former and nourishes the culture of impunity that so
arrogantly spawned the aberration of November 23, 2009.

This is obviously one manifestation of how political corruption has become not simply insidious
but metastatic as well, and one can only suspect two things: that those tasked to address this
cancerous phenomenon have become comfortably part of the problem or have succumbed to
the inertia of the anesthetized and overwhelmed.

While much of public and media attention has been focused on the trial proceedings and
commemoration activities marking the massacre, scant notice has been given to issues like
following up on the lifestyle check on the Ampatuan clan by the Office of the Ombudsman.

The way things are, there are many more questions than answers.

Where, for example does the money trail lead?

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More Than One Year On – What Has the National Government Learned About Its Failures In Maguindanao?

Commentary by Red Batario


Tuesday, 18 January 2011

What happened to the investigation on the firearms and thousands of rounds of ammunition dug
up in and around the Ampatuan mansion in Shariff Aguak?

Who benefited from the transactions aside from the clan?

What about the millions of pesos said to have been laundered through the accounts of
Ampatuan relatives and allies?

What about the results of the COA audits on Maguindanao especially in relation to the use of
public funds?

Even harder questions need to be asked, not just today but every time… or else find ourselves
succumbing to a dangerous malady similar what the UNDP described in its 2008 report,
Tackling Corruption, Transforming Lives: Accelerating Human Development in Asia and the
Pacific:

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More Than One Year On – What Has the National Government Learned About Its Failures In Maguindanao?

Commentary by Red Batario


Tuesday, 18 January 2011

“… the real price of corruption is not paid in currency at all. The true costs are eroded
opportunities, increased marginalization of the disadvantaged, and feelings of injustice. The
myth that nothing can be done to curb corruption seems to be nearly as pervasive as corruption
itself.”

We must ask the questions…but more importantly we need to demand the answers: Now!
Philippine Public Transparency Reporting Project

(The author is the executive director of the Center for Community Journalism and Development
and the regional director for the Asia Pacific of the International News Safety Institute.)

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