As I am writing this, a joint session of the Legislature is debating whether or not to give its endorsement to the declaration of martial law in Maguindanao, which was triggered by the massacre of 57 people 18 days ago by a mixed force of over 100 Ampatuan mercenaries, paramilitaries, and police. The private army of the Ampatuan clan, which is responsible for over 200 deaths if the second-hand reports of the CHR are to be believed, is just one of 132 such groups – groups in possession of an estimated 800,000 weapons – identified by the military throughout the country.
While the horror and indignation for the massacre is properly directed at the Ampatuans, it should not be forgotten that the incident seems to have been precipitated by the meeting of Ishmael Mangudadatu with Andal Ampatuan Sr., where the former announced his intention to run for the Ampatuan-controlled governorship of Maguindanao – an innocent-enough courtesy call, perhaps, except that Toto Mangudadatu was accompanied by 200 armed men of his own. The roles of victim and perpetrator seem separated only by circumstance; little wonder, then, that what should be a straightforward criminal investigation – the barbarity of the crime notwithstanding – has proved to be beyond the abilities of the legal authorities and has required a military takeover of the area.
As I am writing this, another armed gang is holding upwards of 75 people – mostly elementary school children – hostage in Agusan del Sur. There are hints that the Ampatuans may have had something to do with this latest atrocity as well, although that area is not their normal milieu – that accusation is still unfounded, but would hardly come as a surprise: the leaders of the Ampatuan family, though in military custody and charged with rebellion and murder, apparently are allowed to keep their cell phones and have a constant stream of visitors. And detention is supposed to achieve what, exactly? It would almost be a relief to find out that the Ampatuans are in fact behind this latest drama in Mindanao, because the implications of it being some other, completely unrelated bunch of goons are just too depressing to contemplate.
In a column a week ago in the BusinessWorld Online, Solita Collas-Monsod provided this definition of a failed state:
“A state could be said to ’succeed’ if it maintains, in the words of Max Weber, a monopoly on the legitimate use of physical force within its borders. When this is broken (e.g., through the dominant presence of warlords, paramilitary groups, or terrorism), the very existence of the state becomes dubious, and the state becomes a failed state.”
“the term is also used in the sense of a state that has been rendered ineffective … and is not able to enforce its laws uniformly because of high crime rates, extreme political corruption, an extensive informal market, impenetrable bureaucracy, judicial ineffectiveness, military interference in politics, cultural situations in which traditional leaders wield more power than the state over a certain area but do not compete with the state, or a number of other factors.”
“Number of other factors” could be open to interpretation I suppose, but of the other conditions listed in the above two statements not one – not one – is missing from the present-day Philippines. Think about that: this definition, which can be applied to national entities-in-name-only such as Afghanistan, Iraq, and Somalia, exactly describes the state of affairs in the Philippines. The only disagreement I have with Ms. Collas-Monsod is her notion that the Philippines will become a failed state if someone doesn’t do something quick – the Philippines already IS a failed state. And it will stay that way until the country’s economic, intellectual, and political leaders admit it, and start doing what needs to be done.
UPDATE — Early a.m., December 11: The ongoing incident in Agusan del Sur is not connected to the Maguindanao clans, but is an escalation of a murderous spat between the Perez and Tubay clans of Agusan. The news just gets worse, almost by the minute.