Philippines: The Southern Way Of Death Threatened


December 9, 2009: The government is being criticized for backing southern warlords. This is done to help fight Islamic separatists and, to a much lesser extent (because the Moslems are a small minority in the country) to strengthen parliamentary coalitions. President Arroyo has expelled the Ampatuan clan from her ruling coalition. Troops and police are looking to disarm up to 4,000 armed supporters of the Ampatuan clan, and arrest dozens of clan and militia leaders. About a hundred people have been arrested so far. But many of these armed followers are hiding their weapons and waiting to see how it all plays out. The guys with guns made good money supporting warlords, and few southerners believe that the northerners will eliminate the clan and warlord system. But the flood of soldiers and police into the province has revealed many crimes, including the murders of over 200 people who opposed the Ampatuan clan in the last decade. The provincial police were controlled by the Ampatuan clan, and have been dismantled by the national police. The national government has lifted up a rock in Maguindanao province, and found a lot of ugly stuff underneath. So far, 161 people have been identified as participating in the operation that killed 57 supporters of Ampatuan clan rivals, and accompanying journalists.

The government said it would dismantle clan armies in the south. That won't be easy. There's a strong clan tradition in the south, and endless clan wars. This is because the many Malay tribes of the Philippines developed differently over the past five hundred years. Those in the south encountered Moslem traders and missionaries from Indonesia, and became Moslem, while those in the north encountered Spanish conquerors and missionaries and became Christian. For reasons more cultural than religious, the tribes in the south retained a strong clan structure, and a preference for settling clan disputes with violence. A recent study found that, over the last 70 years, there have been, on average, about two such feuds a year, leaving a dozen or so people dead, and often causing hundreds, and sometimes thousands, to flee their homes. The violence has become more deadly in the last few decades, as automatic weapons became more common. The current problems in getting the MILF to finalize a peace deal stem from MILF factions, and disputes based on clan affiliation. While religion is the main glue holding the MILF together, clan politics still stirs the pot.

Disarming the clans will change the balance of power in the south, as the MILF militias are still armed, and ready to take advantage of pro-government militias that kept them in check, and are soon to be disarmed. Overall, however, the southern provinces would be better off with warlords and their clan based militias gone. These forces often engage in criminal behavior to sustain themselves, and clan leaders use their gunmen to coerce voters and maintain political power.

December 8, 2009: Peace talks resumed with the MILF. This coalition of Moslem separatist militias wants to make peace, if an acceptable deal can be worked out. That's difficult, because Moslems are only eight percent of all Filipinos, and an even smaller proportion of the economic activity. MILF wants control of more of the economy, which means control of "ancestral Moslem areas" in the south that are now populated by Christians. The Christian majority refuses to allow Christians to be dominated by Moslems in a more autonomous Moslem south. Resolving this issue could bring peace. Meanwhile, the army continues to track and identify MILF camps and units. MILF has been talking peace because they are increasingly outmatched by the army. Recent battles between soldiers and rogue MILF units have ended badly for the rebels.

December 5, 2009: On Jolo, a bomb exploded outside a police station, killing a civilian and wounding six cops. A little to the east, in Maguindanao province, police arrested the governor, Andal Ampatuan, the head of the Ampatuan clan and father of Andal Ampatuan Jr., who was responsible for the recent massacre. His father has been governor since 2001. Martial law has been declared in the province and nine other senior provincial officials were also arrested. Police have seized hundreds of weapons (mostly rifles and pistols) and lots of ammo. This stuff was handed out to followers when more muscle was needed, and holding stockpiles of weapons and ammo was a sort of reserve, for unexpected emergencies.

December 3, 2009: The army now has 3,400 troops in the southern Maguindanao province, the site of the recent massacre of 57 people because of a clan feud. The Ampatuan clan has ruled the province for a decade, and was willing to do just about anything to remain in power.


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