EDITORIAL - Change in the ARMM
Rosalinda L. Orosa (The Philippine Star) - December 16, 2012 - 12:00am

Zaldy Ampatuan has finally been arraigned, pleading not guilty in the massacre of 58 people in Maguindanao in 2009. Although reforms have been implemented in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao where Ampatuan once served as governor, the environment that bred the worst election violence the nation has seen remains largely in place. Although the nation may not see another attack on the scale of the Maguindanao massacre, the potential for deadly violence is still present in the ARMM.

As Zaldy Ampatuan was arraigned, police started monitoring the security situation in the ARMM provinces of Basilan, Lanao del Sur and Maguindanao. The three are among 15 election “priority provinces” on the list of the Department of the Interior and Local Government, based on previous violent cases in the 2007 and 2010 polls as well as the reported existence of private armies and loose firearms. The DILG and police are enlisting local stakeholders to assist in efforts to maintain peace and order in the ARMM during the election period.

The downfall of the most prominent – or notorious – members of the Ampatuan clan after the massacre did not end the political influence of the family in the ARMM. As recent reports have shown, over 40 Ampatuan clan members are running in the 2013 elections, some of them under the administration party. Long-simmering clan feuds can once again erupt in violence in the run-up to the May elections.

After the massacre, ARMM forces allied with Andal Ampatuan Jr., principal accused in the massacre, his brother Zaldy and their father Andal Sr. were in disarray. Many of them were hunted down and could not cause trouble in the 2010 elections. Since then, however, there are indications that some of those forces have regained their footing and are stirring up trouble. Witnesses and potential state witnesses in the massacre have been murdered or have reported serious threats to their lives. Political enemies of the Ampatuans also face security threats.

The inclusion of the three ARMM provinces in the priority list of election hotspots shows that the government is aware of the security problems in one of the nation’s poorest regions. President Aquino has handpicked an officer-in-charge for the ARMM, who is expected to lay the groundwork for changing the environment that led to the massacre. Peaceful elections in the ARMM next year will be a good first step on the road to lasting reforms.

 

 

AMPATUAN ANDAL AMPATUAN JR. ANDAL SR. ARMM AS ZALDY AMPATUAN AUTONOMOUS REGION DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT MAGUINDANAO MASSACRE MUSLIM MINDANAO PRESIDENT AQUINO
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