by Inday Varona-Espina
The abduction and murder of around 45 persons, including around a dozen journalists, in Ampatuan town, Maguindanao is a spear thrust in the heart of our fragile democracy.
Let us grieve not just for our media colleagues -- though theirs is an especially tragic fate, to die in the line of duty, serving a profession that more often than not deprives provincial practitioners of a living wage and social benefits.
Let us grieve, too, for the other dead: the wife of a mayor, lawyers, drivers and followers. Let us grieve most for democracy, for election-related violence violates our people's right to an enlightened choice of leaders. Election-related violence prevents people from asking tough questions of prospective leaders; that violence is almost always aimed at subverting a people's free will.
Today's outrage brings this country closer to failed state status, and not just because of the number of persons killed. What is truly chilling about today's tragedy is, that the alleged perpetrators were not just excitable henchmen of a local politician -- in this case, Shariff Aguak Mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr.
The perpetrators, according to military reports, included not just the mayor and his men but also practically the entire local police force, para military forces and senior police officials.
One hundred men; that's the equivalent of a company in the military. One hundred men; it's no wonder that journalists who tried to follow up the carnage could not get a word out of anyone.
Anyone includes the top officials of the Philippine National Police (PNP) in Camp Crame.
Even as media was getting the names of those killed, even as the mayor of Mangadadatu told television reporters about how his wife called him to report being waylaid, even as Major General Alfredo Cayton of the 6th Infantry Division and Armed Forces of the Philippines spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Romeo Brawner Jr. confirmed that the 21 bodies had been recovered in Ampatuan town at around 4:30 p.m., the Public Information Office of the PNP continued to insist they knew nothing of the incident.
We have heard the usual statement of condemnation from Malacanang. They might as well condemn themselves.
The Ampatuan clan played a major role in the fraud that marred the 2004 elections; the fraud that allowed President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo another six years in power; the fraud that many of us chose to ignore because the alternative was another outsider-actor in Malacanang.
Maguindanao was where they tried a shutout of Fernando Poe Jr -- a zero vote. Maguindanao, as the Hello Garci tapes told us, played a big, big role in ensuring Mrs. Arroyo's continued hold in power.
Five years since that election, Ampatuan can strike at will, almost reassured of impunity because, after all, nobody ever got punished for the fraud of 2004. On the contrary, many elections officials and military officers implicated in the fraud reaped promotions and other rewards.
Now we are told the government is about to place the entire Maguindanao under military and police control. God help us all, because with protectors like these, we don't need enemies.