(UPDATE) Andal Ampatuan, Jr., the prime suspect in the Maguindanao massacre has surrendered, and will be brought to Manila for questioning.
While this is a welcome development, we still cannot be relieved about the situation. There are several details which point to a possible whitewash or cover-up.
One such detail is the fact that Presidential Adviser for Mindanao Affairs Jess Dureza met with the Ampatuans before the younger Ampatuan surrendered. One can only guess at what deal was struck, what was discussed at that meeting.
Another detail is the fact that Dureza and Ampatuan hugged each other before Ampatuan was handed over to Justice Secretary Agnes Devanadera, which is a show of support for the younger Ampatuan. Considering the gravity of the offense that faces Ampatuan, Dureza’s gesture is an uncomfortable sight; it may suggest that the younger Ampatuan will get off lightly for allegedly masterminding the massacre of 52 civilians and journalists, an atrocity unparalleled in Philippine electoral history.
Finally, it’s not reassuring to note that the government has been treating the Ampatuans with kid gloves all the way. The police have been hesitant to tag the younger Ampatuan as the prime suspect, even though his presence at the scene was noted by some of the victims before they were brutally murdered. Consider also that the Ampatuans have been silent over the tragedy, not even condemning the barbaric actions of their armed thugs, is tantamount to tacit approval of the tragedy. Should the government even think twice about dealing harshly with their erstwhile allies? Does it even have to be asked?
Even the administration’s anointed candidate, former Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro appears to be toeing the administration’s soft manner of dealing with the suspect, defending the slow pace of the authorities. It must be difficult for him at this point; he has to try to win the voting public over, and yet he has this hanging over his head. You can be sure that his opponents will not let the public forget the administration’s actions over this tragedy. Unless there is any substantial progress in the case, Teodoro’s chances of winning are probably nil.
The government cannot afford to be soft in this heinous crime, unless officials want to declare open season on political killings. Otherwise, this tragic incident will just be the portent of things to come in next year’s elections.