Philippines massacre: The story behind the accused Ampatuan clan
The Philippines massacre of 46 people on Monday on Mindanao appears to have been politically motivated, with fingers pointing to a powerful local clan.
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In 1990, the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) was created for the Muslim provinces of the island, ostensibly to give the local population more power over their own affairs and suck the life out of Mindanao's various insurgencies. But in the 1990s, the Armed Forces of the Philippines continued to aggressively hunt down local militants using the paramilitary loyalists, much as similar civilian forces were created by Colombia's military in the 1960s. One paramilitary leader who worked with the Army's 6th Infantry Division was Andal Ampatuan.Skip to next paragraph
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With his close military ties, Ampatuan's rise has been meteoric. He has served in the Philippines Congress and as the governor of Maguindanao. His family's rise to political dominance has closely tracked that of Arroyo, who became president in 2001. Since Ampatuan first became governor in 2000, five of the province's towns have been renamed for his relatives, including the provincial capital now known as Shariff Aguak, after his father.
In a long 2008 report on the Ampatuan clan's influence and strength, reporter Jaileen Jimeno wrote that "only one family wields real power in Maguindanao: the Ampatuans, led by... acknowledged patriarch, Governor Andal Ampatuan." She quotes Michael Mastura, a former congressman from Maguindanao, as saying of Ampatuan's local power, "the word ‘impunity’ does not even suit it.”
He has cultivated the relationship with the presidential palace by running a reliable election machine in his area. Ampatuan was widely alleged to have rigged the local vote in the 2004 election, which saw ARMM vote overwhelmingly for Arroyo. In 2005, his son Zaldy became ARMM governor. In Zaldy's last reelection, in 2008, he received 90 percent of the vote. In 2007, all 12 candidates whom Arroyo had backed for senator in Maguindanao won. After that election, local school administrator Musa Dimasidsing told a national commission on electoral fraud that he'd personally witnessed ballot stuffing. He was murdered with a shot to the head soon after. Mr. Dimasidsing's murder remains unsolved.
In 2006, Arroyo issued Executive Order 546, which legalized the then-informal, and technically illegal, paramilitary groups of men like Ampatuan. "The (Philippines National Police) is hereby authorized to deputize the [paramilitaries] as force multipliers in the implementation of the peace and order plan," Arroyo's order reads. The order's effect was to institutionalize paramilitary groups like Ampatuan's across the country.
At least four of Ampatuan's sons are also town mayors and most of them have gunmen of their own. Estimates of the size of his own personal militia range from 200-500. He often travels in a convoy with "technicals," pickup trucks with 50-caliber machine guns mounted on the load bed, armed by loyalists and family members.
"Arroyo returns the favors by letting (The Ampatuans') rule Maguindanao like a fiefdom," Jarius Bondoc wrote in The Philippine Star. "All economic initiatives need the Ampatuans’ assent; state funds are released through them. Even the posting of police and military generals are cleared with them."
Ampatuan has been a target of violence himself. In 2006, he survived an ambush that he said was laid by the MILF. The group denied trying to kill Ampatuan, but the former governor's personal gunmen have often fought with the MILF. The group said it had killed 20 of Ampatuan's militiamen in a firefight in 2006.
More violence could be in the offing. Though the government is hoping that the state of emergency will tamp down the situation, the Mangudadatus are powerful in their own right. Blood feuds in Mindanao traditionally run long, and hot.