Testing the Boundaries of the State

Gangs, Militias, Vigilantes and Violent Entrepreneurs in Southeast Asia

Authored by: Ian Wilson

Routledge Handbook of Southeast Asian Politics

Print publication date:  December  2011
Online publication date:  March  2012

Print ISBN: 9780415494274
eBook ISBN: 9780203155011
Adobe ISBN: 9781136579196


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On 23 November 2009 a convoy of 57 men and women were stopped at a roadblock in the southern Philippines by an armed agent of a local warlord, together with a number of local police. On their way to register Esmael Mangudadatu as a candidate for the elections for governor in the province of Maguindanao in the southern Philippines, the group, which included Mangudadatu’s wife, were taken to a remote area and brutally killed and their bodies buried in a mass grave. Those behind this unprecedented and audacious act of political violence were linked to the Ampatuan clan, a powerful family which had held sway over Maguindanao since the late 1990s (ICG 2009). The killings were apparently intended as a warning to Mangudadatu, the only other significant challenger to the rule of the head of the clan and governor of Maguindanao, Andal Ampatuan Sr. This outrage presented the Arroyo government with a grievous dilemma. It had been reliant upon the clan to secure votes for the president and patronage from Manila had allowed them to develop their power unchecked. The massacre reflected their sense of impunity. Extreme even by the standards of the Philippines, where political violence and murder is endemic around election times, the murders brought to the attention of the country and the world the existence of well-armed groups operating outside the law and prepared to use extreme violence with state funding and consent. 1 Subsequent raids by the Philippines military on the compound of the Ampatuan clan during a week-long state of emergency uncovered a massive weapons cache. 2

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