The descriptions that follow may be triggering, but please read and watch. People have asked me, “What can I do?” and it will be in the context of this violence—including sexualized violence–that this call to action is situated.
Last November 23, fifty-seven people were massacred in the Southern Philippine province of Maguindanao. They were on their way to filing a certificate of candidacy for Esmael Mangudadatu, who was running against a powerful political dynasty with close ties to the Arroyo government. Because Esmael had received death threats, his wife Genalyn, two sisters Eden and Bai Farinna, and two female human rights lawyers Cynthia Oquendo-Ayon and Connie Brizuela went in his place. Also in the convoy were other family members and at least 35 journalists.
They expected that a convoy of civilians—women and journalists—would be granted safe passage. Instead, witnesses report that the convoy was gunned down by a private army of 100 men. On a national highway. In broad daylight.
The bodies were later found in shallow graves and scattered around bullet-ridden vehicles.The bodies of the women were also sexually mutilated. Reports state that the women’s pants had been pulled down and that they had been “shot in their private parts.”
Marga Ortigas of Al Jazeera has a good report that situates this massacre in a wider context of “lawlessness, the proliferation of illegal weapons, the impunity with which crimes are committed.”
Already, there are those who are quick to blame this massacre on Muslims, on the Moros, on the lawlessness that supposedly pervades Maguindanao and the rest of Mindanao. But this facile equation fails to take into account how this massacre is only one among the numerous instances of state-inflicted and state-tolerated violence.
This report from earlier this year, also from Marga Ortigas, shows how former Davao Mayor Rodrigo Duterte deployed vigilante death squads in targeted killings of petty criminals and alleged drug dealers, including teenagers and street children.
“You can die anytime,” said a mother whose four sons were killed by these death squads.
There has been little outcry against these killings in the Philippines, let alone the international community. In fact, Duterte has been lauded by political and business leaders for keeping the peace and order situation.
In February 2008, seven civilians–including two teenagers, two children, and a pregnant woman–were massacred in a military raid in the southern province of Sulu. There were reports that the Filipino soldiers involved in the raid were training with members of the U.S. military.
The initial outrage faded, and there has been little public outcry since.
There is an underlying reason these iterations of violence are tolerated. It is because the use of military and para-military forces shores up the economic and political interests of local and national elites. And that also includes United States interests.
In this report from the Focus on the Global South Philippines Programme, Herbert Docena locates the United States role in advancing US interests in Mindanao, even at the expense of shoring up provincial warlords. After all, Docena writes,
A more stable Philippines, with a Mindanao that is “peaceful” and open for business, with pliant, relatively more powerful and less subordinated Moro elites at its helm, seems to be a more ideal scenario for the US …
In terms of this collusion of interests, I can’t do better than to quote the group CONTEND (via Sarah Raymundo):
The continued hegemony of warlordism in Southern Philippines is not inconsistent with the U.S.-Arroyo regime’s internal security plan (Oplan Bantay Laya). Precisely, this plan is aimed at sowing terror in areas where the government perceives it necessary to consolidate its power. For many years, the people of Mindanao have been the target of unspeakable terrors owing to a monolithic national agenda that serves only the local ruling elite and its imperialist allies.
In other words, to shore up its own economic and security interests in the region, the United States is indirectly and directly contributing to the warlordism, the lawlessness, the proliferation of illegal weapons, and the impunity which underlies the violence to which ordinary people in Mindanao are subjected.
Here again is an excerpt from the CONTEND statement:
The U.S. global war on terror is grounded on a strategy of fragmentation—deploying and igniting all kinds of religious, racial and ethnic difference and local political rivalries—in order to ensure the economic, ideological, political and military support to the edifice of capitalism, currently shaken by the financial and real economic crises.
So what is to be done? What can we US-based feminists and social justice activists do with our outrage over this latest massacre?
My response takes off from an answer Angela Davis gave in an interview, excerpted here by Johanna from Vegans of Color:
It seems to me that those of us here in the U.S. who are interested in a transnational feminists project would better serve the cause of freedom by asking questions rather than making proposals. So I would want to know how feminist and working class activists in countries such as Iraq might envision the most productive role for us. In the meantime, we must continue to strengthen the anti-war movement.
Angela Davis makes the important point of listening to our counterparts, in order to determine our most productive role here.
Activists representing various sectors of Filipino society, groups like CONTEND, the Gabriela Women’s Party, Anakpawis, AF3IRM/GabNet, Innabuyog, and KMU have been calling and working for an end to the militarization in Mindanao and the Philippine countryside. It is a militarization that has been tacitly and actively supported by the United States government, including this current administration.
So following Angela Davis, those of us here in the US could be most productive by working against the militarization of countries like the Philippines.
By working to strengthen the anti-war movement.
Our most productive role starts with changing what we can here.