Thicker than water: the gods of Maguindanao

Donning robes of velvet and chunks of gold, they come down from their ostentatious yet desolate palaces in the sky in the guise of new but poorly-maintained municipal halls, and ride their chariots among the poverty-stricken streets of Maguindanao.

A review of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism documentary Angkan, Inc. 

By Krysten Mariann Boado

The kings and queens of Shariff Aguak and Datu Hoffer parade under a ball of fire and a sea of dirt-stained palms and fingers.

Donning robes of velvet and chunks of gold, they come down from their ostentatious yet desolate palaces in the sky in the guise of new but poorly-maintained municipal halls, and ride their chariots among the poverty-stricken streets of Maguindanao. With crowns of corruption poised atop their heads, they wave their sceptres of impunity over skeletal figures and butchered bodies.

It is election period, and once again, they have come to feed on the carcasses of their barren bailiwicks.

They have come to maximize the town’s utility, which to them stands as the family enterprise.

Politics: a family business

Kicking off the month-long commemoration of the Maguindanao Massacre and the campaign to end impunity at the UP College of Mass Communication, the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ), in partnership with the UP Journalism Club (UPJC), conducted a free screening of the documentary Angkan, Inc.

The screening was followed by a discussion with the man behind the camera, Ed Lingao.

Lingao is currently the Multimedia Director of PCIJ.

“Ginagawa namin ‘to [screening] para ipaalala sa mga future media practitioners ang mga threats ng press freedom at ng demokrasya (We are doing this to remind our future media practitioners of the threats on press freedom and democracy),said Che de los Reyes, PCIJ Training Director. “Ginagawa namin ito para hindi nila makalimutan (We are doing this so they will never forget).”

Angkan, Inc. centers on Mindanao’s political royalty and the persisting poverty and absence of governance in Maguindanao due to these long-standing dynasties. The correlation between poverty and extensive political dynasties, which have found itself at the heart of the provincial towns, was stressed in the nearly 50-minute film.

“The clans are going to be there in perpetua until you do something about them,” Lingao explained. “Nobody has really looked at the clans and the dynamics between the clans and the voters, the clans and the national government, the clans and the regional government.”

Contrary to its meagre population and deficient situation, the chaotic race for the thrones of Maguindanao traces back to the datus, the original Mindanao royalty from which these political clans claim to have come from. Adapting the datus’ need for followers while evolving into political warlords, the extremely strong sense of “clannism” in Maguindanao narrows down the choices of the people and even, to a certain extent, removes their options entirely.

The documentary also unravels a series of startling statistics: the record-breaking 97.9 percent voter turnout in the province during the 2010 elections, coupled with the exceeding number of voters compared to the number of residents in Datu Unsay town.

Add to that the P3.87 billion Internal Revenue Allotment for Maguindanao in 2011. Half of the locals, however, still live below the poverty line despite the hefty sum supposedly spent to deliver basic services to less than a million residents.

The film firmly tackles the suppression of democracy and the illusion of free choice in a province where what is thicker than water trickles down and eventually poisons the rivers of the people.

Political clans, although highly discouraged by the 1987 Constitution, have not been absent in the pages of the country’s so-called democracy. However, it is not only the Ampatuans and Mangudadatus who make up the most prominent political dynasties in the Philippines. Various ‘royal’ bloodlines exist throughout the archipelago’s landscape, only with a change of names, position and political colors.

More often than not, these kings and queens are the fat-bellied politicians we have come to know as those who treat the Philippines as a business and not as a nation in need for progress and societal change.

By putting relatives in their positions, you are perpetuating business. You are perpetuating power,” Lingao said.

Never forget

However, it is never too late to strip these dynasties of this power.

Abusama Taguntong of the local watchdog Citizens Coalition for ARMM Electoral Reforms calls out to the youth in one of the film’s segments. He relies on the youth as the country’s hope to strengthen democracy and sever the firm grip of political clans through electing or becoming competent public servants themselves.

As the torch is handed to the next generation, Taguntong believes that it is never too late for the youth to bite back the hand that feeds them. It is never too late for the youth to rebel against these kings and queens and fight these monsters among men. It is never too late for the youth to remember that Mindanao’s most powerful clan has been responsible for the deaths of public servants who became the eyes and ears of the nation.

And as the youth ward off the crowns of corruption and sceptres of impunity in a barren, broken land, hope flickers from a distance, waiting for the battle to be won by the young blood of these brave warriors who would dare not forget.

This article was first published in TNP’s Nov. 26, 2013 print issue.

Author: TNP

The Official Student Publication of the UP College of Mass Communication.