Saturday, December 12, 2009

Martial Law in Maguindanao lifted

The Philippine Star
Updated December 12, 2009 05:27 PM

Original Story:

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — President Arroyo has approved the lifting of martial law in Maguindanao where 57 people were massacred last month in the country's worst political violence.

The martial law edict will be lifted at 9 p.m. local time (1300 GMT) today (Saturday), eight days after she signed the proclamation placing Maguindanao province under martial law and suspending the writ of habeas corpus, which allowed police and soldiers to arrest suspects without court warrants, Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said.

It was the first time that martial law had been declared since the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos imposed it nationwide more than 30 years ago and ruled by decree until he was toppled in 1986.

Arroyo took the step to enable security forces to move against the Ampatuan clan which has been blamed for the Nov. 23 killings of members of a rival clan and 30 journalists, and accused of fomenting a rebellion to prevent authorities from arresting members of the family.

The Cabinet's security group recommended the withdrawal of the controversial proclamation and Arroyo approved it during a meeting of the National Security Council early Saturday, Ermita told a televised news conference.

Ermita said a state of emergency declared a day after the massacre, which allows security forces to set up road checkpoints and seize firearms from civilians, will remain in force in Maguindanao and nearby Sultan Kudarat province.

The lifting of martial law followed "accomplishments" by the police, military and the Justice Department in crippling the Ampatuan clan, he said.

He said 24 people, including clan patriarch Andal Ampatuan Sr., have been charged with rebellion and 638 others have been referred to the Justice Department for investigation. Three others, including Ampatuan's son, Andal Jr., have been charged with multiple counts of murder.

The military reported hundreds of assorted firearms, including mortars and machine guns, and hundreds of thousands of rounds of ammunition have been seized in and near properties owned by the Ampatuans.

On Thursday, the military said troops were moving in on strongholds of some 4,000 government-armed militiamen loyal to the Ampatuan clan but no clashes have been reported.

Human rights groups and lawyers — mindful of rights abuses during the Marcos years — had questioned the constitutionality of Arroyo's imposition of martial law with the Supreme Court.

Saturday's decision is expected to end a review of the proclamation by a joint session of the House of Representatives and the Senate that started Wednesday. The proceedings in Congress were used by opposition legislators to lambast Arroyo, with some accusing her of preparing the grounds for imposing martial rule nationwide.

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