Tuesday, April 20, 2010


It seems incomprehensible that Justice Secretary Alberto Agra can not grasp the implications of absolving two prime suspects in one of the country’s most heinous massacres.

Now Sec. Agra says he can still reverse his order to drop the charges against suspended ARMM Governor Zaldy Ampatuan and his cousin, suspended Mamasapano Mayor Akmad Ampatuan Sr.

What’s more suspicious is the silence of President Arroyo – who allegedly owes, in large part, her 2004 election victory to the Ampatuans. Sec. Agra says he sees this as Palace endorsement of his decision.

Journalists around the world had strongly condemned the cold-blooded murder of 57 people – many of them journalists – in Maguindanao last year. We had asked for a thorough investigation and the severest punishment for the culprits. Instead, we get a Justice Secretary whose supposed zealousness for protecting the rights of the accused is refuted even by his own prosecutors.

The clouds of suspicion that already shroud the Philippine justice establishment, from the municipal courts all the way to the High Tribunal, is growing.

Sec. Agra advised the families of Maguindanao massacre victims to take their indignation to the Court of Appeals. Hence, the government has given them the added burden of filing an appeal, as if the weight they carry from the brutal murders of their loved ones was not enough.

Bishop Desmond Tutu said, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”

Sec. Agra denies he was pressured by Malacanang.

The political opposition senses something sinister, and one can not be faulted for thinking the Justice Secretary’s decisions may somehow be connected to the coming elections.

After all, Maguindanao is reportedly the Arroyo administration’s vote granary, the rich vote basket of Mindanao, the place they always came back to, to make up for losses in other parts of the country – and the Ampatuans are the key.

The Philippines moved up the rank, from 59 in 2008 to 53 last year in the Fund for Peace Foundation’s Failed State Index. This showed the Philippines is among the countries in danger of being a failed state.

The German economist and sociologist Max Weber said that a necessary condition to be a state is the retention of a “monopoly on the legitimate use of force within its borders”.

He believed this monopoly can be broken by dominant warlords, paramilitaries or terrorists, and when these happen the existence of the state becomes dubious, and can be said to have failed.

The Failed State Index uses 12 indicators of state vulnerability – four social, two economic and six political.

A grade of 90 or more mean there is an imminent collapse of the state, if it has not done so already. A score of 60 or higher denotes the state is in danger of failing. And states having a score of 30 or more are classified as “moderate”.

The Philippines had a score of 85.8 in 2009.

If Sec. Agra has chosen to be on the side of the oppressors, then he has just pushed the Philippines even closer to the precipice.

The case against the Ampatuans goes beyond murder. His decision has implications above the dispensation of justice (or lack thereof) because it threatens to perpetuate warlordism that in Maguindanao, at least, is the government.

Even while the Ampatuans are behind bars, fear still permeates the region. Witnesses are still being intimidated.

In a recent article for the Council on Foreign Relations, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates declared that “dealing with fractured or failing states, in many ways, the main security challenge of our time.”

Perhaps Sec. Agra sees such lofty concerns as beyond the purview of the Justice Secretary. His job is to uphold the law. So go ahead, please do your job. Fifty-seven screaming souls demand it.

“As nightfall does not come at once, neither does oppression,” US Supreme Court Associate Justice William Douglas once wrote, “In both instances, there’s a twilight where everything remains seemingly unchanged, and it is in such twilight that we must be aware of change, however slight, lest we become unwitting victims of the darkness.”

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