Friday, December 11, 2009

‘Bolder’ martial law seen (‘Suspects’ out to seize power, preempt polls)

By Christine Avendaño
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 01:29:00 12/12/2009

Filed Under: Martial Law, Maguindanao Massacre, Security (general), Election Violence

Original Story:

MANILA, Philippines – Disturbed by events that occurred on Thursday in Mindanao, Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago warned of a “conspiracy” to bring about a “bolder” martial law beyond the province of Maguindanao.

Santiago, a staunch ally of President Macapagal-Arroyo, said the objective of the alleged conspiracy was to “seize power and preempt the national elections” in 2010.

She named four suspects behind the purported plot—the powerful Ampatuan clan believed responsible for the Nov. 23 massacre of 57 persons, the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), a “cabal” supported by a group of military officials including the defense and interior secretaries, and “a new RAM” in the military (a reference to the Reform the Armed Forces Movement that mounted a series of coup attempts against the administration of the late President Corazon Aquino).

Maguindanao has been under martial law since Dec. 4 as a result of what Malacañang had described as a looming rebellion among the supporters and followers of the Ampatuans, who are closely allied with the President.

Interviewed Friday by reporters, Santiago expressed concern over the hostage-taking of 75 people in Agusan del Sur, the beheading of kidnap victim Marquez Singson in Basilan, and the abduction of Basilan State College vice president Orlando Fajardo.

Not random developments

She also cited the Thursday night ambush of a military convoy carrying evidence in the government’s case against the Ampatuans.

“The [incidents] of more lawlessness and violence in areas near Maguindanao are part of a script. I have reason to believe these are not random developments. They’re not just happening,” Santiago said.

She said the timing of the events was “suspicious” and that this “pattern of behavior” had not been previously seen.

“I believe there is a conspiracy to prepare the ground for a bolder martial law, perhaps to cover the entire country,” she said.

Arroyo ‘under pressure’?

Santiago said the President was not involved in the alleged plot.

“She knows that the public will immediately suspect her, and she is not hoping to risk her candidacy in Pampanga for public outrage,” she said of Ms Arroyo, who is running for congresswoman in her home province in 2010.

Santiago, however, added it was also possible that Ms Arroyo “might be under pressure from some of the suspects I mentioned.”

But Defense Secretary Norberto Gonzales and Armed Forces Chief of Staff Gen. Victor Ibrado, who were both in the Senate Friday, denied there was such a plot or that they or the military was involved in one.

Gonzales said he was also concerned and was looking into “why groups are emboldened these days.”

“What I can assure you from my end [is that] if I make recommendations, we will not have martial law one day longer than necessary,” he told reporters.

Ibrado dismissed the suggestion that the military was behind the latest violence in Mindanao.

“We will never do that to create a scenario. For what? In the first place, why will we do that? I can tell you I will not allow anything like that to be done by anyone,” Ibrado said.

Even Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile contended that the incidents in Basilan and Agusan del Sur did not necessitate the extension of martial law beyond Maguindanao.

“Even assuming that the whole Mindanao is in turmoil, it’s isolated. You can put that place under martial law without [doing so in] the Visayas and Luzon to control the situation,” Enrile said.

De Lima’s warning

He said those speculating on a government plot to put the entire country under martial law had “a fertile imagination.”

But even Commission on Human Rights (CHR) Chair Leila de Lima has warned of a broader scope for martial law.

She said it was possible that the government would put Metro Manila and the rest of the country under martial law if the multiple murder trial of Datu Unsay Mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr., the prime suspect in the Maguindanao massacre, would be transferred to a Quezon City court.

“Any city that becomes the venue of the special court that will try those responsible for the Maguindanao massacre will naturally be exposed to serious security threats,” De Lima said in a statement.

She cited intelligence reports quoted by the media of a possible plot by Ampatuan Jr.’s supporters to spring him from the National Bureau of Investigation headquarters in Manila, where he is being held.

The Supreme Court has granted the request of the Department of Justice to move the venue of the criminal cases against Ampatuan Jr. from Cotabato City to Quezon City, citing the fear of witnesses to testify in a place near Maguindanao.

“It may sound hysterical to some people,” De Lima said of her own apprehension, “but people must observe the recent declaration in Maguindanao.”

She noted how “it takes very little to induce the Executive branch to declare martial law,” and pointed out that Ms Arroyo put parts of Maguindanao under military control based only on intelligence reports of a looming rebellion by Ampatuan supporters.

Seat of power

Said De Lima: “It concerns us that Quezon City, or any [other] city in Metro Manila for that matter, had even been considered as the venue of the special court. Metro Manila is the economic and political capital of the country, and to place the seat of power under such serious threat could very well develop into a new and expanded declaration of martial law...

“Since [Metro Manila] is the seat of power of the country, is it possible that martial law could be declared over the entire country as well?”

De Lima appealed to the DOJ and the Supreme Court to “reconsider” the decision to move the trial venue to Metro Manila.

She said the trial could be conducted in other Mindanao cities such as Davao, General Santos or Cagayan de Oro, considering the massive deployment of military personnel there.

“It is not that we want to place these alternative places or cities in danger. What we want to guard against are possible grounds for a martial law declaration over the political capital and even the rest of the country,” she said.

Plot suspects

But Santiago named four possible suspects in the “conspiracy” and why she thought them capable of mounting such a plot.

She said the Ampatuans could be behind the “malevolent events” because they stood to benefit if the government would prove its contention that there was rebellion in Maguindanao.

“Rebellion carries a lighter penalty than murder,” she pointed out, adding that it would be easier for the Ampatuans to obtain an acquittal from a rebellion charge than from a murder charge.

On the other hand, the CIA could be involved because, Santiago said, “they could be playing pawns in the Mindanao game so that they could actually do what our Philippine law prohibits them from doing, which is to [be] in actual engagement of fire with the enemy.”

As for what she said was a “cabal,” or “a group of criminally minded people who banded together to create a scenario because it will benefit them,” Santiago said both Gonzales and Puno could benefit from the power to be derived from a state of martial law.

She said it was also possible there was a “new RAM” in the military, or “a group there of angry young men … that orchestrates all of these so the military could be as powerful as they were during the previous martial law.”

‘Kick out advisers’

Santiago said the Supreme Court’s speedy ruling on the seven petitions seeking the nullification of Ms Arroyo’s Proclamation No. 1959 imposing martial law in Maguindanao would “dampen the spirits of the plotters” and “make them think twice because they know the Supreme Court can influence public opinion.”

But she also reiterated her call for Ms Arroyo to lift martial law in Maguindanao “and kick out your advisers.”

Santiago said some of the President’s advisers “might have an agenda hidden from [her].”

‘Invisible hand’

“There is an invisible hand coordinating all the incidents that [occurred on Thursday],” she said.

Interviewed before the Senate deliberated on the proposed defense budget for 2010, Gonzales said he intended to tell Santiago something that would clear him of suspicion. He refused to elaborate.

Gonzales said he also planned to fly to Basilan as soon as the defense budget is approved in the Senate.

He said the province had been “crying,” and that the situation there was “drastic.”

But he denied that the government had anything to do with the beheading of a kidnap victim in Basilan: “Are we orchestrating these? Hindi naman siguro kami ganoon ka-demonyo (We are not as evil as that).”

With reports from Nikko Dizon and Jocelyn R. Uy

Original Story:

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