[This is the sidebar story to Private Armed Militias Worsen Impunity, also by Arpan Rachman]
Zamzamin Ampatuan looks like he was pouting.
Casually attired in a polo shirt and jeans, the nephew of Andal Ampatuan Sr., who is now standing trial for the brutal killing of 58 civilians including 32 journalists on November 23, 2009, walks into the coffee shop in Cotabato City with the confidence of a man long used to power. After all, he belongs to a clan that has held sway for decades over that part of Mindanao.
But this Ampatuan quickly dispels that notion. Perhaps he was just eager to paint a more kindly picture of his clan that had become constant grist for the media’s news cycle. Perhaps he only wants to tell his own story and his own perspective of events in relation to what has been described as the worst ever election violence in the Philippines.
He feels at ease deftly fielding questions from Southeast Asian reporters doing a story on impunity in the Philippines.
He begins by talking about family and clan culture in the Philippines.
“In the Philippines, one’s name is valued because it is associated with family character. This is part of our culture. Whether you’re of Chinese or Spanish descent, indigenous or royalty, what is important is how you value your name. Of course, some specific bloodlines are associated with royalty,” Zamzamin says.
Name and family also shape our destiny, he adds.
He explains that many old family names in Mindanao including those in the province of Maguindanao like his clan have roots and connections with ancient sultanates long before the successive waves of colonizers. “They all claim to have been descended from the Prophet Muhammad,” he smiles.
Without missing a beat, he suddenly shifts gears and slips in a nugget of information: “Datuk Andal Ampatuan Sr., during martial law, was the commander of a militia called the Barangay Self-Defense Unit (BSDU) in the town named after him. (The BSDU has since been replaced by another para-military group, the Citizens Armed Forces Geographical Unit or CAFGU). Members of this militia are now standing trial for the massacre.”
Zamzamin says it was during that time that the Ampatuan patriarch shored up his power base through the armed militia.
He adds that in 1963, long before martial law was declared, the clan found out that someone was trying to manipulate the results of the local elections where an Ampatuan was a candidate. “He (Andal Sr.) got mad and when he found that man. He shot him. Luckily the man survived,” narrates Zamzamin.
He insists he does not like having an armed bodyguard even when he was not yet mayor of Rajah Buayan town. “In fact, even now that I am a politician, a mayor, I still don’t have a bodyguard unlike others which is fairly common here. I do not do that. I don’t subscribe to that idea. In fact, if I have guns I will probably feel even more threatened and uncomfortable.” He was saying that not everyone in the Ampatuan clan have a penchant for guns or have armed bodyguards.
“Probably my own style is different. I don’t know because I have some relatives who use guns. Like any other politician in Maguindanao and Mindanao, they feel secure when they have bodyguards. It is also because in many parts of the Philippines it is one of the ways of doing things. Of course, I have my own way of looking after myself. I do not need that (guns and bodyguard). Why should I sacrifice my personal freedom in exchange for feeling like a prisoner followed everywhere by a bodyguard?” he asks.
“I am allergic to firearms. I was already ambushed once when the radio station I was working for was bombed. In case you didn’t know, I was once a broadcaster myself,” he says, adding, “I haven’t killed anyone and I have never entertained the idea of killing.”
[This article was produced for the 2014 Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA) fellowship program. Arpan Rachman is an Indonesian journalist working as a contributor for Okezone.com, Indonesia. Arpan is one of the 2014 Fellows who wrote for the theme “Promoting a regional understanding of impunity in journalists killing in the Philippines.”]
Click this photo to see all of Arpan Rachman’s photos for the 2014 SEAPA Fellowship.