Maguindanao massacre ‘guilty’ verdict sparks calls for anti-political dynasty law passage

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By Daniel Llanto

After the Quezon City Regional Trial Court found the principal suspects guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the infamous Maguindanao massacre, the top trending topic in social media consisted of calls for Congress to immediately enact the long overdue measure making political dynasties unlawful.

On Twitter, one user said the Maguindanao massacre was an “urgent reason” why the anti-dynasty is badly needed for the country. The mass murder was perpetrated by members of the Ampatuan family who occupied every positions of consequence in the province.

The Maguindanao massacre is considered the worst election-related violence in recent history, as well as the world’s single deadliest attack against journalists and media workers. On November 23, 2009, 58 individuals lost their lives: 32 journalists, 20 Mangudadatu family members, including their lawyers and their supporters, and six passers-by.

Of a total 197 accused, 101 were guilty of 58 counts of murder, one for every person killed in the massacre.

All victims were on their way to file then-Buluan Vice-mayor Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu’s certificate of candidacy for the Maguindanao gubernatorial position when they were ambushed and gunned down by heavily armed men.

Mangudadatu — now representative of Maguindanao’s second district — was seeking to end the 20-year political rule of the Ampatuans in Maguindanao at the time.

He was personally asked by the Ampatuans to drop his political bid twice — in a meeting with then-Defense Sec. Gilbert Teodoro and at a dinner with then-President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

The family patriarch Andal Ampatuan Sr. planned the crime while his son Andal Jr. led the assault.  Also believed to be part of the gang were former Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao Gov. Datu Zaldy “Puti” Ampatuan, incumbent Shariff Saydona mayor Datu Sajid Islam Ampatuan and former Sharrif Aguak mayor Datu Anwar Ampatuan Sr.

After a decade of the long-drawn trial, the prominent members of the Ampatuan clan were found guilty beyond reasonable doubt, including members of their local police force.

Fifty-four police officers led by Police Maj. Sukarno Dicay, then chief of the Philippine National Police 15th Regional Mobile Group, were given prison sentences, along with 39 other civilians.

But 80 other suspects, including 15 bearing the surname Ampatuan, are still at large and were not among those sentenced.  The criminal liability of the eight accused who died during the course of the trial, including Datu Andal Ampatuan, Sr., were deemed to have ended upon their deaths.

The Ampatuans used to be reckoned as one of the most powerful political families in Maguindanao and the largest political dynasty in the country.

After the Quezon City RTC handed down the verdict, Senators Panfilo Lacson and Franklin Drilon pointed to the urgency of the bill they co-authored titled “An Act Prohibiting the Establishment of Political Dynasties.”

Several versions of the bill have already been filed in Congress throughout the years only to gather dust in archives.

Under the Lacson-Drilon version of the measure, the public official’s spouse or relative within the second civil degree of consanguinity or affinity would not be allowed to run in the same city or province as the former.

They are also not allowed to run in the same position after the incumbent official’s term.

The ban would cover the incumbent official’s parents, children, siblings, grandparents, grandchildren and in-laws, regardless of whether they are legitimate or not.

The 1987 Constitution does not allow political dynasties to flourish. This is explicitly stated in Article III Section 26 under State Policies, where it states: “The State shall guarantee equal access to opportunities for public service and prohibit political dynasties as may be defined by law.”

As of now, the provision on political dynasties was left out in a bid to amend the Constitution by the Inter-Agency Task Force on Constitutional Reform.

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