November 23rd will go down as one of the darkest days in Philippine history. Last Monday, a convoy of relatives of a gubernatorial aspirant in Maguindanao, accompanied by journalists and lawyers, were abducted, tortured and killed. They were on their way to the local electoral office to file Esmael Mangudadatu’s candicacy. Clan rivals, the Ampatuans, are widely suspected of perpetrating these heinous crimes.
Election-related violence in the Philippines is not unusual; it goes back to the Marcos years and maybe even earlier. In recent times, however, impudence and brutality have scaled new heights. Journalists, in particular, have become vulnerable targets; their profession no longer a badge of protection. Mangudadatu had arranged for a dozen or so journalists to accompany his female relatives — his own wife, his sister and aunt (both pregnant) — and his female lawyer, thinking that some code of honour on the part of his enemies would ensure their safety. The massacre is now being called the deadliest single attack on the media in history, and has been strongly condemned by the United Nations and European leaders.
Whatever Mangudadatu’s flaws (being part of a clan that has its own power base in the region), he clearly put too much faith in the humanity of others. He later tells reporters, “We can’t call [Ampatuan Jr] an animal because I have pets and they are tame. No, he is a monster. They are monsters.” As details emerge of how victims were mutilated and disposed, this conclusion has become a vast understatement.
I am absolutely sickened by what happened. There’s a part of my brain that is in lockdown in order to contain how distressed and enraged I feel. But above all, I am dumbfounded… What leads ordinary human beings to do such horrible things? How is it possible to look somebody in the face, to hear the screaming, and do it anyway? I don’t use the word “evil” lightly because it often provides a convenient distance and dismisses the humanity of the inhumane. So I must use the same word that Mangudadatu uses. Every person involved in perpetrating the massacre in Maguindanao is a monster, not fit to breathe.