The massacre at Maguindanao was not only an outright insult to the Filipino people, but it was a brazen display of the victory of impunity. Unarmed civilians, in the exercise of their duties as citizens and as productive members of society, were brutally murdered, slaughtered, and mutilated by a squadron of armed assailants, presumably under the orders of a powerful political force in an already troubled region. The journalists – our vanguards of free expression – have already said their peace about their slain colleagues. The lawyers – our vanguards of justice – have already expressed their anger to the fate that befell their compañeros and compañeras. Political figures – our vanguards of peace – have already made resounding condemnations of how citizens were murdered to deny them of their rights.
Part of the tasks of the justice system is to determine guilt and innocence. It dispenses of the necessary punishment where it is lawful, just, and fair. Yet it is the task of society to ask and answer that question: “Why?” It must rationalize, it must provide an explanation, and it must find answers to that elusive question. Why did this happen? Why must a slaughter of such barbaric proportions take place in a free society? Why was this done, if at all, contemplated upon?
Was it power? The end did not justify the means. Was it greed? It took way too much effort to satisfy that greed. It was impunity, plain and simple. The license to murder. The license to rape, to rob, to steal. The license to exercise power indiscriminately, without regard to prudence and temperance. The license to slaughter.
When you come to think about it, the answer to “why” is simple: whoever perpetrated this massacre did it because he or she can. The kind of impunity that comes with the lust for power and insatiable greed, the same two things that come from the barrel of a gun, perhaps a hundred. The same kind of impunity that we encounter every day on the way to work or school, at work, and at school. The impunity that killed journalists, lawyers, and women on the way to that town in Maguindanao is the very same impunity that we allow ourselves to suffer from on a daily basis. The only difference is that the impunity has a much greater magnitude than the bullying classmate, the hated officemate, the reckless driver, the corrupt police officer, the prodigal child, the abusive parent, and so on and so forth.
The impunity behind this butchery does not end there. Andal Ampatuan – whose surname and namesakes rise as top suspects in this appalling tragedy – still reigns in Maguindanao, unopposed, and after these circumstances, perhaps even feared. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo – who most certainly should be at the forefront of the outrage – declares a day of mourning, offers a hazy plan for investigation, and exits the stage that she’s supposed to be in. “Politics as usual.”
The democracy that’s supposed to be guaranteed to every single Filipino on each and every square inch of Philippine territory apparently does not exist in some places in the Philippines, where there are warlords and elites more powerful than the democracy itself. The weapons and equipment used to perpetrate that savagery were paid for by taxpayers and took place in a land of promise and peace. Impunity at is most grotesque.
Ladies and gentlemen, it could happen to any one of us. If you do not fear for your lives and your rights right now, start fearing for them. We live in a dictatorship, and impunity lords over us all.
The defense to all impunity is hope. Hope that justice prevails. Hope that conscience reigns, hope that democracy will work so as not to elect a warlord to lord it over down south. Hope that we find the right motivation to resist the galling, disgusting insults to our pride that we endure on a daily basis. Hope that something like the Maguindanao Massacre will never happen in our lifetimes. Hope that the poverty of our choices in the ballot will one day not include a warlord, a violent elite, a man with a private army.
With hope comes resistance. We must resist the powerful, the rich, the influential, the bloodthirsty, and the guncrazy. We must bring back the peace that we deserve for once in our lives, and that a politics of massacre will not be usual. We must inspire, empower, enforce, embolden, and most of all, take that power back from those who do not deserve it.
Impunity. The prerogative of the powerful. The invulnerability of the wealthy. The exemption granted to you because of where you are in the grand scheme of things. The things that you can get away with simply because you can. Yet even in a moral vacuum, even in the most ethically-bankrupt situation you can find yourself in, this massacre cannot be justified. It meets no end, it has no reward, and it certainly does not make sense. We hope and resist not only for Mindanao, but for the Filipino people. We hope and resist for our sake.
Impunity triumphed for just one day. One day too long, one day too many. Should the perpetrators of this heinous act of barbarism get away unscathed and untouched, and should something like this happen again, impunity wins the war.
* – Black ribbon image came from the mindanaobloggers group.