With all the media hype and attention currently focused on the so called Maguindanao massacre, it is easy to forget that despite the fact that at least fifty-seven persons lost their lives in that one, single and tragic incident, the merciless slaughter was ordered and carried out not by madmen and deranged individuals who did it merely for the love of killing or for some unexplained or insane blood lust. It was, based on what has been uncovered so far, a political assassination that lead to the mass killing of innocent individuals (all possible and potential witnesses to the original crime) and clearly a rational, planned and calculated act done for the sole purpose of stopping and crushing with one stroke the Mangudadatu's challenge to the political dominance of the Ampatuan clan in that province.
In the dog-eat-dog world of warlord politics in most provinces in Mindanao, dominant political clans enforce their rule over their political fiefdoms by intimidation and force. They will try, of course, to threaten and intimidate would-be opponents but actual and real challenges to their supremacy are inevitably met with violence since that is the most expedient and effective response in a local culture that worships the power of the gun and where private armies maintain and project a political clan's control and dominance over a province or geographical area.
Thus the Manguindanao massacre is singularly significant only in the sense that more than fifty people lost their lives in it. In all other respects, where it not for the number of individuals killed, it would have been merely another bloody footnote in the turbulent political history of this southern part of the country.
The basic circumstances of the crime were in no way unusual or extraordinary. Similar preemptive political killings have been done in Maguindanao and elsewhere in Mindanao with impunity countless of times in the past. Datu Unsay Ampatuan Jr. (if it was indeed he who was responsible for the massacre) merely had the guts to up the ante. Why indeed kill two or four when killing fifty-seven can be just as easy.
Perhaps that was his greatest mistake. Maybe he overdid it and the Ampatuans overplayed their hand.
The government in Manila could have easily ignored and swept under the rug the killing of one, two or even several victims in a politically motivated attack especially one committed by a political clan or warlord allied with the party in power . Political violence happens, after all, to be an integral part of life in Mindanao. But even Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, a one time staunch friend of the Ampatuans, cannot turn a blind eye to the callous slaughter of more than fifty persons. Certainly not with the country and her party facing local and national elections next year.
What bothers me truly about the Magunindanao incident is that the government is propagating the fiction that it was an aberration, a crime so heinous and bloody that it was, by its nature, unusual and extraordinary. It was not. Not even the government's heavy handed and unusually quick response to the massacre can disguise this fact.
It was a crime that was simply waiting to happen. And just because the Ampatuans have so far been neutralized in Maguindanao there is no assurance that similar multiple killings will not happen again elsewhere in Muslim Mindanao or anywhere else in the island. The conditions that gave rise to the conflict that resulted in the tragic massacre exist all over here. Nothing has really changed so far.
The Arroyo administration as well as the presidential administrations that preceded it have allowed, contributed to and even benefited from the emergence and rise of the warlord culture in Mindanao. Now the country and its people are merely reaping the bitter harvest of their greed and foolhardiness. In that sense, it's merely payback time.