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Philippines Declares State of Emergency after 57 People Killed in Politically Linked Massacre

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The death toll from the Philippines’ worst politically linked massacre has risen to fifty-seven. The victims were abducted as they were traveling to nominate an opposition candidate for governor in upcoming elections. The dead include eighteen Filipino journalists from regional newspapers. It’s believed to be the highest number of reporters killed in a single attack anywhere in the world. We speak with Walden Bello, an Akbayan representative in the Filipino Congress. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: In the Philippines, the death toll from Monday’s massacre has risen to fifty-seven after police discovered eleven more bodies in a third mass grave. The victims were abducted Monday by gunmen as they were traveling in a convoy to nominate Esmael Mangudadatu as the opposition candidate for governor in elections due to be held next year. It’s believed to be the Philippines’ worst politically linked massacre.

Mangudadatu, the governor candidate, was not himself in the convoy, because he had received death threats. The dead included eighteen Filipino journalists from regional newspapers, TV and radio stations, who were accompanying his relatives and supporters to file his nomination papers. It’s the highest number of reporters killed in a single attack anywhere in the world, this according to media groups.

Police have formally named a local mayor, Andal Ampatuan, Jr., as the lead suspect in the killings. He’s head of a southern municipality and the son of the provincial governor, a powerful local political ally of President Gloria Arroyo.

On Tuesday, Arroyo placed two southern provinces under emergency rule and vowed an all-out effort to bring those responsible to justice.

    PRESIDENT GLORIA ARROYO: No effort will be spared to bring justice to the victims and hold the perpetrators accountable to the full limit of the law. The chief of staff has ordered the establishment of checkpoints and choke points. And as of last night, the military elements were in place to preserve peace in the areas. Additional troops have also been deployed to the area last night to further secure the area.

AMY GOODMAN: We go now to Manila to speak with Walden Bello. He is an Akbayan representative in the Filipino Congress. He’s also a professor of sociology at the University of the Philippines and a senior analyst of the group Focus on the Global South. He’s joining us on the telephone.

Walden Bello, we welcome you to Democracy Now! Can you explain exactly what happened? What led to this massacre of fifty-seven people, among them eighteen journalists, and many of them women? The gubernatorial candidate had received death threats, and so he sent the female members of his family to file his nomination papers.

WALDEN BELLO: Well, Amy, first, thanks for inviting me on. This is a matter of grave national concern.

The convoy was that of an opposition group, that they felt that they were protected by the company of journalists and, as you said, women relatives doing the filing. But they were up against what was really a planned dictatorship in this province of Maguindanao, you know, where votes have been tightly controlled by this one family of the Ampatuans for over a decade. And what we saw was this situation, where instead of respecting the traditional informal rules that women were not to be attacked, nor were journalists to be attacked, the — what had been not expected in fact happened. And this has been a very gruesome situation.

And the situation really is very much like Afghanistan, where you have a weak national government presence in the area that’s very much dependent on warlords and that these warlord clans, you know, are oftentimes in conflict with one another for political power, which is, you know, the most valuable commodity in a very poor area. Now, over the last two decades, because these local offices have received a lot of central government money, because of decentralization, these offices have become even more valuable. But not only do they receive a lot of national government money, they also allow control of illicit activities like drugs and smuggling, and they also are able to shake down local commercial and merchant interests. So this was what was at stake here. And, of course, the other thing that really has made that situation very complicated is that these people had been allied to the administration of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, and they can deliver the votes, and they can in fact deliver 100 percent for the administration because of the very coercive hold that they have in this area.

So, basically, I think you’re in a situation that if you want to understand the relationship between the President and the warlords in the southern Philippines, you — maybe the best analogy is to compare it to the relationship between President Karzai in Afghanistan and the warlords in the provinces of Afghanistan that have a stranglehold over these areas and are engaged in all sorts of activities and control the lifelines, economic lifelines, of the local area. So I think that’s the best analogy that I can give at this point.

AMY GOODMAN: Walden Bello, so often we’re used to seeing you outside on the streets protesting about, oh, corporate globalization. In fact, we’re broadcasting from Seattle, Washington. Monday is the tenth anniversary of the Battle of Seattle, when tens of thousands of people took to the streets. You were among them. Now you’re a member of Congress in the Philippines. Can you talk about the different responsibilities you feel, whether we’re talking about corporate globalization or we’re talking about dealing with, well, the massacre of fifty-seven people in the Philippines in the south?

WALDEN BELLO: Well, let me just say that, clearly, being in Congress — and I’ve been in Congress here for the last six months — allows me a chance to be able to, you know, address issues of national concern, because I feel that unless we are able to open up to progressive reform, you know, our local areas and our national areas, like the Philippines, a lot of the things that we are fighting for globally, in terms of against corporate-driven globalization, against the US — oppressive US military presence, you know, would be very difficult to achieve. So I think this is a case where we have to think global and act both global and locally. And I think there are many people who have been active in both international and local arenas, like me, because we feel that we have no choice but, in fact, to be engaged in both, because just being engaged in one arena is not — will bring very limited achievements, unless we’re really able to bring our concerns to the local level.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, the relationship between the Philippines and the United States and what — well, the US military relationship, the nuclear relationship — we’re going to be actually talking about nuclear power in a few minutes, but that’s back in the United States — this as President Obama meets with the Indian prime minister here in Washington, DC, Walden Bello?

WALDEN BELLO: Well, the US presence in East Asia, military presence in East Asia, is — continues to be quite strong here, although, you know, we are talking about the situation where the political influence of the US really has waned a lot, and we now have, in fact, a government in Japan that is no longer willing to play the old role of being totally subservient to the United States. Here in the Philippines, we have an election coming up, and we were — you know, there are strong possibilities at this point that we will be having a new administration that would be much less subservient to US interests than the previous one.

So, things are changing at this point throughout Asia. We have — in many ways, the US prestige has declined, although in military — in terms of its military positioning, in terms of a vast array of bases in the area, that is still the case. But I really think that the kind of unilateral power that the US was able to wield in areas like East Asia is a thing of the past.

AMY GOODMAN: The flooding in the Philippines, Walden Bello, the issue of global warming, as we move in on the climate change conference that will be happening in Copenhagen, this global summit that will be taking place?

WALDEN BELLO: Yes, well, the Philippines is definitely one of the victims of climate change. I think this recent series of typhoons this year, which have been becoming very fierce, you know, climatic changes, I think — a number of studies have confirmed that the Philippines is one of those that will be greatly affected, which is why we do have a stake in a successful outcome to the negotiations in Copenhagen. At the same time, personally, I am quite — not very hopeful that there will be a new phase of the Kyoto agreement that will be successfully negotiated, because the United States is the biggest block at this point. It is not, you know, really willing to name a cut that they would propose for greenhouse gas emissions, because the Obama administration is basically saying it’s got to wait for the Senate to be able to approve a greenhouse gas emissions law in the US.

So I think that I will be going to Copenhagen, and I think it would be, you know, this global deal on two things. One is mandatory cuts in global gas — greenhouse gas emissions on the part of the rich countries. And second, real firm commitments to provide financial assistance to developing countries for them to be able to adapt to climate change. My worry is that Copenhagen is not in fact going to produce agreements here. And if it doesn’t produce agreements here, I think we all are in a very difficult situation, because climate change has been accelerating. So, we in the Philippines can only really hope that the industrialized countries will come to their senses, and having been the principal really responsible for the accumulation of greenhouse gases, to really take the bold steps in agreeing to cuts in — mandatory cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. And the US really, under the Obama administration, has a historic responsibility to put itself on the line on this one.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Walden Bello, I want to thank you very much for joining us. Walden Bello is a representative in the Philippines Congress. He is also an analyst with the Focus on the Global South and a professor at the University of the Philippines, speaking to us from Manila.

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