Thursday, December 10, 2009

To Live Meaningfully, Die for Others (Ampatuan Massacre)

Sometimes we think that there are things we cannot do, especially when our lives are in danger. Unless someone who has a lot of courage and bravery acts on it, we will not realize that to live meaningfully, is to die for others. (Nicdao and Hilario, GMRC 6)

The aforesaid nugget of moral wisdom is lifted from a textbook, Good Manners and Right Conduct, intended for grade six pupils. It would have been very deep in meaning for the very young clientele to understand if there was no supporting story for it. Indeed there is one.

Robin Garcia: The Boy Who Died for Others

Young Robin was a student of the ill-fated Christian College of the Philippines in Cabanatuan City, Philippines. This entire building collapsed as a result of the killer earthquake of July 16, 1990. With one terrifying jolt, it went down without warning and with it were its occupants, students, teachers who were probably wrapping up for the day's lessons because it was 4:16 pm when it happened. The earthquake rocked the whole of Luzon. I experienced its deathly intensity and still fear its threat to life and property to this day.

Robin was trapped in the ruins like most of his schoolmates. He was slightly hurt. After a moment of shock, he mustered calm and sought his way out. He could have went home for safety, but he didn't. When he heard voices crying in pain and shouting for help, the boy didn't hesitate. He scampered back into the ruins, plunged into the maze of rubble and emerged with bodies of his classmates. He did so again and again and saved many lives. But on his last attempt, he stepped on a concrete slab that gave way. He went down with it, and was pinned down under. Rescuers who found him rushed him to a hospital, but his injuries were fatal, he didn't make it- he died.

The young boy is now enshrined in the hearts of the schoolmates he saved. This memorial by Nicdao, et al, will forever be etched in the hearts of Filipinos, young and old alike. His courageous action will be emulated by the young who will turn hopefully into brave adults.

Definitely, there were others like him in that disaster area who offered their lives for others to live. In fact, in our daily existence, there are heroes and heroins, known and unknown, whose courage and bravery touch our lives. Calamities, tragedies, accidents, natural and man-made disasters- create extraordinary people with exemplary characters we will always remember in this broken world.

Must people, especially the ones so young, really have to die, in order for the others to live? Then if the answer is yes, I would add here that we don't necessarily have to die, if we want to live a meaningful life for ourselves and the others. We just look around us, open our eyes wide for the opportunities for us to live a meaningful life.

One such rare opportunity to show one's courage to help others in order for one to live a meaningful life, is to get involved in the speedy solution to the Ampatuan "backhoe" massacre that happened last November 23 in Maguindanao, in southern Philippines. 57 innocent people were butchered and dumped by a government-owned backhoe in a mass grave by an alleged 161 militiamen who are private armies of a feared and powerful clan, the Ampatuans. The dastardly act was perpetrated by no less than the Datu Unsay town Mayor Andal Ampatuan, Jr. He shot at close range the dead and the dying to be sure they were indeed dead, as alleged by witnesses to the crime. The gory scene shocked the whole world.

The brutal crime committed by a private army of a warlord in one of the election hot spots in the country was proof of the barbaric impunity by which the perpetrators can kill and even try to hide the crime as if no law can be applied to prevent them from committing such brutal act in broad daylight. ( Kelly M. Delgado, Secretary General of Karapatan, a human rights group based in Davao, southern Philippines).

Genalyn Mangundadatu: The Housewife Who Died for Others- the Filipinos

Genalyn Mangundadatu, was a dutiful wife, endowed with exemplary courage and bravery- but she died a cruel death in the hands of her province-mates along with 56 others- innocent women, lawyers, journalists, and motorists who happened to be in the vicinity of the planned massacre. Yes, it was planned, so that her husband, Vice Mayor Esmail Mangundadatu, with honest belief that probably if it were some women he sent to file his certificate of candidacy for governor, and with that number of mediamen- all 30 of them, and two lawyers, no untoward incidents could happen, much less, killings. The filing was projected to be sensational because the powerful Ampatuans won juicy seats in government without contenders since 2001. They wedged such power and clout that no one was brave enough to run against them. And so, 30 journalists joined the six-vehicle convoy. They were flagged down at checkpoints intended to prevent them and were waylaid from the highway.

They didn't go unprepared. One of Mangundadatu's two slain sisters made a secret audio recording of the horrifying attack. He instructed her sister to turn it on as soon as they left. It was hidden in her socks when his wife and relatives went to the Commission on Elections office in the town of Shariff Aguak to file his COC. The device was recovered by the police. Genalyn was able to call her husband to tell him that they were flagged down, she was slapped.

Stories of the victims' families of their slain loved ones, trying to call for help are ripe in the news. Manila Bulletin reporter, Alejandro Reblando, tried to call but failed to gain attention from 2 high-rank military officials and police officers before the massacre. He dialed the mobile phone of ARRM police director Umpa. The phone was ringing but the call was left unanswered. They were butchered like animals, dumped in a mass grave along with the vehicles crashed by a government-owned backhoe, bearing the name of Ampatuan, Sr. When their bullet-riddled battered bodies were later found in the crime scene, 20 out of the 27 women were alleged to be raped before they were mercilessly killed.

The whole world is watching us. 18 days today, from the day of the massacre, justice for the victims, is yet to be served. The alleged perpetrators are rounded up, all right, but the investigation is in snail's pace process. As if the puzzle would be an unending question as to who are the perpetrators, the government investigators slowly unravel yet more heinous atrocities committed by the suspected planners and executors of the crime even as fearful people refuse to come out to serve as witnesses. They are afraid of retaliation and they lack confidence in the government's resolve to place the culprits in jail.

The "backhoe" massacre of 2009 where 57 people were killed, is incomparable to the latest discovery, the so-called "chainsaw" massacre of 2001 where around 250 people were chainsawed and buried alive when the Ampatuans began their rise to power. The alleged "killing fields" are still there. The whisperers are in tight security until this issue is dealt with. They fear for their own lives and for their families and relatives. According to these whistle blowers, they now feel safe with the imposition of martial law by President Gloria Arroyo in the strife-torn province of Maguindanao and are now willing to talk. The president herself was blamed for ignoring the incident- she is an ally of the Ampatuans, and the Ampatuans are her staunch supporters who deliver rich votes to her ruling coalition. Every Filipino voter will never forget the case of the "Hello, Garci" tape, where she used her power to influence votes in her favor.

Proclamation 1959, declaring martial law in the province of Maguindanao, for whatever the president intends it for, is receiving a lot of criticism. The leftists are accusing the rightists believed to be in collusion with the president who they accuse of having found a venue for a hidden agenda- to declare a failure of election, and to prolong her stay in office and power. It should be noted here that at the time that the massacre was making waves in the air, President Arroyo beamed on TV as she showed her certificate of candidacy for congresswoman in her hometown Pampanga, a first of its kind for a past president of the land to stoop so low as to seek lower position in government. The issue of immunity from crimes she and her family had allegedly committed while in office, is one reason, the other, to influence the House of representatives to give her overwhelming support in her pursuit of an illusive agendum- the Charter Change or "Cha-Cha".

Some high-ranking officials are now crying "foul" in almost every move of the president. Her declaration of Proclamation 1959 or martial law almost 2 weeks ago, is being condemned to be illegal, it has no constitutional basis since there is no rebellion nor a proof of attempts to overthrow government. If this is not revoked, she will have a precedent that will give her the power to declare martial law anywhere in the country without constitutional bases, she could stay in power, as long as she wants, too. The ghost of the 1972 martial law that ruled for 20 fearful years in this country still haunts the suspicious public. The joint session of the Senate and the House, that has started to convene as of yesterday, holds the key to said allegations, if true. But the plead for revoke is just secondary to the budget hearing the joint session will undertake. Let's just keep our fingers crossed.

The dead must now be writhing in pain in their spirit world, waiting for appropriate justice for them. Someone, or everyone who is tasked to probe the murder issue must have a lot of courage and bravery, to arrive at a swift and fair trial for the perpetrators and eventually for justice to be served for the peaceful repose of the victims' souls.

Yes, this is the best time for the president and her advisers to show the whole world that they are not sitting on the massacre issue and to deal with the Ampatuans in the strictest application of due process not with "kid gloves". This is everybody's chance to die in themselves, forget their personal motives, and come out honest and clean with their conscience. Likewise, all politicians with private armies must dismantle such. CVO's, militiamen, private citizens, and all who are possessing illegal firearms now know the bitter consequence of this situation that went awry. It's too late to blame the government now for allowing the Ampatuans to run private armies as part of government strategy to contain the Muslim separatist insurgency. If the news running these days are true, the powerful Ampatuans have made Maguindanao their own republic, and with their loyal private armies totalling to about 2,600 and with that cache of warfare materials still unaccounted for in still undisclosed arsenals, they can launch an attack on government facilities and military.

Ranking officials of the Catholic Bishop Conference of the Philippines are calling for the people's sobriety, a call for restraint on the part of the administrators of martial law, because biases for and against it can befuddle the issue. They must not abuse the power, it must not be prolonged, it must move for speedy dispensation of justice for the victims. We all can become heroes if we stay vigilant and calm. Courage, my fellow countrymen, means laying arms, to let law and legislation take its course.

You live by the gun, you die by the gun. Must someone have to die again ? How many Genalyn's must still die so that we, Filipinos, must live- in absolute peace and progress?

Video by jinanne on YouTube


  1. Lita, that is very sad, it is a shame that these occurances can still happen.
    I am keeping an eye on the volcano as well, I hope you are in a safe place.

  2. Monstrous how things like this are happening all over the world. Are power and money worth that much?

  3. plainolebob, we live far from the angry Mayon Volcano, and live farthest from the massacre site. But the people all over the country are sad and angry, too, over these untoward events. Thank you for your kind concern.

  4. nothingprofound, you said it. Most of the powerful and the moneyed in that part of our country don't have any regard at all to others' lives. I am sick and tired of knowing, they kill people just to stay in power.



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