MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/20 April) — As the May 10 general elections draw near the pieces appear to be rapidly falling into place. The latest to fit itself into the Arroyo administration’s elaborate jigsaw is Acting Justice Secretary Alberto Agra’s order to drop the multiple murder charges against ARMM Governor Datu Zaldy Ampatuan and his brother in law, former Mamasapano mayor, later Acting Maguindanao Vice Governor Akmad Ampatuan, in connection with the November 23, 2009 Ampatuan Massacre.
Disinterested observers may find the order as simply the fruit of an objective weighing of evidence. But given the closeness of the primary accused to Malacanang and their key role in ensuring victory at all cost of Mrs. Arroyo’s anointed candidate (whoever he is), it is sheer naiveté to dismiss the political motivation behind Agra’s order as “pure red herring”.
There is enough reason to believe that dirty politics dictated Agra’s order. The timing is suspect not to mention the seeming furtive manner with which the secretary issued it. And, as reported on national television, he had served as election lawyer to Arroyo and the Ampatuans. Now, can you get more political than that? And can we expect Agra not to favor former clients who presumably paid a handsome amount for his legal services.
So why confine the arguments about this case to its legal merits? In this case the thumbprints of Arroyo are as undeniable as that inimitable voice that phoned an election commissioner asking the latter for a margin of at least one million votes against the late Fernando Poe Jr. In this case the culture of political utang na loob (debt of gratitude), applied in a manner beyond the worst adjectives, is writ large across the landscape with the blood of the victims and the tears and anguish of their loved ones.
But even the “tackle the legal issue not Arroyo” line of argument falls flat on its face. Murder charges have been filed against the accused. The least Agra should have done is allow the court to try the case and determine the guilt or innocence of the Ampatuans and their accomplices. Worse, his order relied on the alibi that the accused were somewhere else when the massacre took place. Some sixty people were killed in cold-blood and it took just a simple alibi to absolve the suspected masterminds. And when the relatives of the victims and media groups started lambasting the order all that one could see and hear was a stone-faced DOJ chief who stood his ground for the wrong reason.
Aside from the “Hello Garci” episode, the Filipinos have had witnessed a lot of unresolved controversies and questionable transactions involving high officialdom since Day One of the Arroyo administration. Investigations came and went. The whistleblowers became the villains. In the end, the eloquence of money and the politics of convenience prevailed.
The latest development in the Ampatuan Massacre case simply highlights that things have remained the way they were. Warlords close to Arroyo may kill a hundred, even a thousand, people and still expect absolution. A simple alibi is all it takes to buy freedom and innocence. Nobody will complain – not even the bishops. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. H. Marcos c. Mordeno can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)