CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/12 July) — The long standing case of the Ampatuan Massacre—since 2009 yet! Under Gloria yet!—is a frustrating lesson for all of us. The full story may never be told—of the Arroyo administration’s coddling of the warlord clan, of the military’s manipulations, and so on.
The Ampatuans, ruling clan of much of Central Mindanao, with patriarch Andal Ampatuan as Maguindanao governor at the time, had accumulated political and economic power over the years while the people and Malacañang merely sat back and watched or even cheered Andal on as their foil against the MILF.
By 2009 Andal and his clan had amassed such power, influence, and wealth that anything they wanted could not be denied including government-supplied munitions and equipment like transport and backhoes.
The rest of the people resigned themselves to the ugly reality that even high officials tolerated, which reinforced the warlord’s swagger, self-importance, and sense of impunity all the more.
So intimidating was his power and reach that one would have to play the hero or be a martyr to oppose it. And that’s exactly what happened when Toto Mangudadatu tried to defy the clan by declaring his candidacy against the patriarch. Luckily for Toto, he wasn’t with the convoy of over 50 that was ambushed and massacred including his wife and 32 journalists.
This is a problem from hell for Mindanaons, always being played with by people in power on all levels. A Muslim friend from Cotabato, an educated man, tells me it’s a problem that only God can solve, and I cannot disagree.
But I do believe also that God has given us, men and women, untold resources for solving our own problems. We just have to know how to use these resources and employ them for our purposes. One sure thing, though: cowardice won’t do; there must be defiance, and for that we have people power.
As citizens of the sovereign community, the one resource that can be effective but which Mindanaons don’t employ is collective action. It worked at EDSA against Marcos and his fascist troops—I know because I was there with my family (wife and children) from start to finish—and it worked again when we ousted Erap.
Sure, protest or defiance can be scary: armed versus our unarmed forces. It is heart-pounding. It makes your knees tremble. It drains the color from your face as cold sweat trickle down your chest and back.
But the togetherness, the nearness to one another of citizens fighting for a cause, bonded by unity of purpose, wins the day. Just like at EDSA, people power is scary. But when citizens stand pat and hold the line; even with eyes shut but arms and hearts linked, they win day…and night! That’s now part of the story of democracy in our society. Something to savor even for the faint of heart.
Braving the showdown unarmed, surviving and prevailing, did something to the Filipino and the world and made life worth living all over again after the dark night of dictatorship.
It would be such a pity if, having already tested our mettle as a people, we do not summon it again as necessary. That time, it was in Manila; this time it can be in Mindanao, a tougher challenge. But Mindanaons have shown their toughness when times get tough: against Spaniards, against Americans, against Japanese, against Marcos!
To summon the spirit of People Power and let it arise in Mindanao would be such a spectacle! This will happen if we are resolute and determined to steer our society away from neutral and move to a forward mode.
We just have to wake up and dust off the cobwebs that keep us from seeing deeply into ourselves as citizens vested with inherent power—a power we can wield in place, right where we are in our community, our barangay.
This power is not granted from above, nor is it conferred by law or fiat. It has always been with us since the beginning of our nationhood, to be used or employed at will. Only, we have not been conscious of it because we have been looking in the wrong direction.
To appreciate and know this power, and to employ its potential for influencing the bureaucracy or reforming the system, we need only to refocus—from the top to the base, from Malacañang and Congress to our community, the barangay.
It is in the barangay where the details of our national problems are starkly manifest. The squatters, the juvenile and adult delinquents, criminality, the agonized faces of poverty and injustice: they are all in the barangay. Viewed from higher levels, it’s all statistics, aggregate data, impersonal.
Seeing them in their naked reality gives a realistic perspective that, on the scale of our barangay, can make their solutions doable.
If we focus on this reality and invest even a little time and effort, together we can change these details and improve the nation’s condition—much as rearranging the dots in a photograph or retouching its details can change the picture.
Although the task of changing the details rests primarily with our officials, it falls to us, the community to whom all officials are accountable, to see that they perform the job properly, efficiently, and honestly.
Let us use people power to moderate the excesses of government and provide quality control to official performance. People power includes civil society, the professions, the social and economic institutions who together can turn bad governance into good governance.
Manny is former UNESCO regional director for Asia-Pacific; secretary-general, Southeast Asian Publishers Association; director, development academy of Philippines; vice chair, Local Government Academy; member, Cory Government’s Peace Panel, and PPI-UNICEF awardee for outstanding columnist. firstname.lastname@example.org