November 30th, 2009
09:30 PM ET

Blowback: The massacre in Maguindanao

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/11/30/maguindanao.jpg caption="The Massacre in Maguindanao in the Philippines" width=416 height=234]

Maria A. Ressa
Head, ABS-CBN News & Current Affairs
Former CNN Jakarta Bureau Chief

You can’t escape the laws of physics. Newton’s third law of motion states: “for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” In the world of governments and their security forces, it’s called blowback – a term first coined by the US Central Intelligence Agency in classified documents to describe US and British covert operations in Iran in 1953. They helped overthrow the government of Mohammed Mossadegh, setting in motion a chain of events which inspired the revival of Islamic fundamentalism around the world.

Blowback happened again in Afghanistan in the late 80’s when the US funneled more than $3 billion, through Pakistan’s intelligence service, ISI, to build up the Afghan resistance against the Soviets. That sowed the seeds for 9/11 and the major terrorist attacks in Southeast Asia from 2001 to 2009. Among the key beneficiaries was Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, who helped train Osama bin Laden and thousands of Southeast Asian militants including the founder of the Abu Sayyaf in the Philippines, some of the Bali and JW Marriott bombers.

Blowback happened in Maguindanao in the southern Philippines – where warlords with private armies funded by the state wield political power.

It’s a complex situation: the power structure of government is a thin overlay on top of a complex social hierarchy based on families or clans. These clans periodically clash – feuds known as rido, which can be ignited by the flimsiest of reasons – a quarrel over women or a verbal slight. Clans became the foundation of electoral politics and determined the distribution of power and resources.

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Filed under: Crime • Islam
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