Philippines: Southern Discomfort

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November 25, 2009: The massacre of 52 people in the south has put an unwelcome spotlight on the way things are done down there. The clans have always been important in the south, and they have always been armed. The national government maintains control in this volatile environment by backing the most powerful clan in each province. This is accused of being the trigger for the recent massacre, as the head of the Ampatuan clan, the provincial governor, Andal Ampatuan, thought (or some of his followers thought) they were above the law and could deal with a political challenger with a bit of mass murder. The national government has promised no cover up during  the investigation and prosecution of the murders. This is possible partly because the massacre broke the "clan code" (you don't kill women), and you don't kill so many unarmed people at once. The national government is taking a lot of heat because the Ampatuan clan supported them against the MILF rebels, but that was normal in the south. Unfortunately, so was the existence of clan militias and the use of violence against political rivals.

Ruling the south is complicated. It's all about local politics in the Moslem community. Unlike the rest of the Philippines, Christian Philippines, the south has retained much more of the ancient clan and tribal traditions. The MILFs 10,000 armed men are torn between their allegiance to an independent Islamic state in the southern Philippines (which the MILF is all about), and loyalty to their clans. Most of the recent instances of the MILF breaking the ceasefire have more to do with clan wars than with resistance to the central government. While many southern Moslems have bought into the concept of elections and government (there is no shortage of Moslem politicians), for many, loyalty to clan leadership still takes precedence. Moslem Peace monitors (especially those from Malaysia and Libya) have helped, because the monitors have an easier time brokering peace deals and truces between clan factions, than do Christian Filipinos. The religious animosity is still there. The southerners would like some peace and quiet, but are trapped in a culture that demands bloody vengeance for the slightest offence. Changing that has proved very difficult, and the recent massacre is a reminder of how nasty these southern traditions can be

The national police have accused the son of governor Andal Ampatuan as the leader of the armed men who killed 46 journalists and rival politicians. Several other known Ampatuan supporters were also named. This could get interesting, and violent.

November 24, 2009: The national government declared a national emergency in Maguindanao province, and flooded the area with thousands of troops.

November 22, 2009: Down south, in Maguindanao province, a local clan feud turned particularly bloody when 52 people (21 of them women, the victims were members of the Mangudadatu clan and 17 reporters for local media) were killed by a group of about a hundred armed men. Many of the dead were cut up. The chief suspect is the rival Ampatuan clan, which currently runs the province (because a Ampatuan man is the governor, which is being threatened by a popular Mangudadatu rival in the next election). Some of the armed men were identified as bodyguards for the governor, while others were known to have worked for the governor or local police. The killers forced their victims from their vehicles and then into the bush towards a nearby kill, where the massacre took place.

November 21, 2009: In a town 490 kilometers south of the capital, someone threw a grenade at a business, wounding seven. This could be gangsters running an extortion scam, not terrorists. It's often hard to tell. Elsewhere in the south, someone planted a bomb in front of a government officials home. But the bomb was discovered and disabled, and no one took credit for the attempt. On the Mindanao coast, nine armed men kidnapped three crewmen from a tug, which had dropped anchor close to land to avoid bad weather. Such kidnappings are very rare, and if there are more, inter-island commerce could be threatened.

November 20, 2009: In Cotabato province down south, 40 MILF rebels came into a village and burned three homes. Large groups of (several hundred) MILF fighters have been seen on the move during the last week.

 

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