Thursday, December 10, 2009

Catholic bishops’ group airs support for martial law

by Christine F. Herrera

Original Story:

THE Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines on Wednesday gave its blessings to martial law in Maguindanao as a joint session of Congress continued to debate its merits.

“We stand by the position taken by the Archdiocese of Cotabato within whose ecclesiastical jurisdiction the tragedy occurred and martial law [was] imposed,” said Bishop Nereo Odchimar, conference president.

On Monday, Archbishop Orlando Quevedo of Cotabato said in a pastoral letter that the massacre of 57 civilians in Maguindanao on Nov. 23 called for an “extraordinary measure.”

“Most people in Maguindanao and [Central Mindanao] favor the declaration of martial law,” Cotabato Auxiliary Bishop Jose Colin Bagaporo said in another pastoral letter.

Like Quevedo, the Catholic bishops said they hoped martial law would not last long.

“The longer it is, the more likely human rights violations [will] occur,” Quevedo said.

In Congress, 52 senators and congressmen signed resolutions seeking to revoke the proclamation of martial law, well short of the 147 votes needed to get a simple majority from both chambers.

“It is difficult for those who oppose martial law to muster even a simple majority of 147 votes to revoke the President’s proclamation, because majority of the lawmakers support the President’s decision to impose martial law in Maguindanao to immediately quell rebellion and restore peace,” House Speaker Prospero Nograles said.

Senators at Wednesday’s joint session criticized Defense Secretary Norberto Gonzales and Armed Forces Chief Victor Ibrado for failing to appear before the two chambers.

Senator Richard Gordon said he was dismayed that the administrators of martial law chose to go abroad when they were supposed to justify military rule before Congress.

But Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said Gonzales and Ibrado were on official missions in Singapore and China, respectively, and would be available to answer the lawmakers’ questions on Thursday.

Both chambers agreed that the joint sessions would be held from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. until Tuesday next week, or until the 20 hours allotted to question Palace officials ere exhausted.

The first hour of the session was marked by the trading of insults between Makati Rep. Teodoro Locsin Jr. and Maguindanao Rep. Didagen Dilangalen, who questioned President Gloria Arroyo’s absence from the joint session.

Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, who presided over the session with Nograles, said the President was not required to appear before Congress because she might opt to submit her report in writing.

The government panel under questioning includes Ermita, Justice Secretary Agnes Devanadera, Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno, and representatives for Gonzales and Ibrado.

Before his testimony in Congress, Ermita ruled out expanding martial law in Maguindanao to include neighboring provinces.

“There is no need to expand the coverage of martial law,” he said. “The military is doing aerial surveillance of the area to make sure Maguindanao is cordoned off and the armed groups are not able to cross to neighboring provinces.”

Ermita said it was unlikely that the rebellion in Maguindanao would spill over to neighboring areas, but he declined to say how long military rule would last in the province.

Also on Wednesday, Lt. Gen. Raymundo Ferrer, martial law administrator in Maguindanao, said the 106th Base Command of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, led by Musanip Solaiman alias Adan Abdullah, was giving refuge to fugitives allied with the Ampatuan clan, which has been accused of instigating and carrying out the Nov. 23 massacre.

Government officials met with MILF representatives in Kuala Lumpur Tuesday to discuss the implications of martial law on upcoming peace talks.

Media groups in Maguindanao also expressed their support for martial law as a way of solving the massacre in which 30 journalists died.

“At least 11 members of the PNP Press Corps were among those 30 journalists killed in the massacre and we understand the iron fist approach that the government used to immediately resolve the case and bring the perpetrators to justice,” said Tony Golez, regional president of the PNP Press Corps.

Former First Lady Imelda Marcos also joined the supporters of martial law, saying its declaration was justifiable if the motive behind it was to bring peace to Maguindanao. With Joyce Pangco Pañares and Joseph Jubelag

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