In a media report, the President through Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita announced Proclamation No. 1959 proclaiming a state of martial law and suspending the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus in Maguindanao province, except for certain areas.
“Based on Proclamation 1959, we are here to formally take over the provincial capitol. By this time, all municipal halls have been secured by the armed forces and police forces in order to ensure that these facilities will be secure,” Lt. Gen. Raymundo Ferrer, chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Eastern Mindanao Command, announced yesterday at a press conference hours after the martial law declaration.
The martial law will continue indefinitely. The declaration came after a large cache of firearms and ammunition was unearthed near the mansions of the Ampatuans in Shariff Aguak, the capital town of Maguindanao.
Reports said soldiers from the Philippine Army’s 601st Infantry Brigade found different types of high-powered firearms and ammunition buried in the ground in a vacant lot in Poblacion 3 in the said town.
At least 4,000 troops have been deployed to Maguindanao for a purpose of implementing President Arroyo’s proclamation of martial law in the province and to conduct warrantless searches on residences of politicians, mostly members of the powerful political clan of the Ampatuans.
While martial law is in effect, Lieutenant General Ferrer will take over from Maguindanao Gov. Andal Ampatuan Sr., one of the suspects in the massacre, as the provincial military governor.
Security forces have arrested members of the Ampatuan clan: Maguindanao Gov. Andal Ampatuan Jr., Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) Gov. Zaldy Ampatuan, ARMM Vice-Governor Akmad Ampatuan Sr., Shariff Aguak Mayor Anwar Ampatuan, and Cahoner Amatuan, a Sangguniang Bayan member of Shariff Aguak.
The other local officials arrested were Paisal Sulaik, a Sangguniang Member of Shariff Aguak; Keise Usman, regional secretary of agriculture and of the ARMM; and Kabuntalan Emblawa, regional environment secretary of the ARMM.
A total of six Ampatuans have been arrested, including another son of the Maguindanao governor, Datu Unsay Mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr., who has been charged with 25 counts of murder for the massacre.
Ampatuan Jr. is currently detained at the National Bureau of Investigation headquarters in Manila. Ampatuan Sr. and Zaldy have been brought to Davao City and General City, respectively.
Two other Ampatuans were detained at the Maguindanao police provincial office, as of posting time.
The November 23 Maguindanao massacre, where 57 innocent civilians were killed, drew both local and international condemnation. It was allegedly led by the governor’s son.
There was immediate condemnation about the declaration of martial law in Maguindanao from a moro group called Suara Bangsamoro.
In a text message, Amirah Lidasan, the group’s leader, said: “Salam, kinokondena ng suara bangsamoro ang martial law sa maguindanao (greetings of peace, the suara bangsamoro condemns the martial in Maguindanao).”
Lidasan said the martial law might be used against the people in Maguindanao. She added that “we fear this will set a trend for other province and be used as a pretext for a no election scenario.”
However, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) condemned the Maguindanao massacre and blamed the Ampatuans for the carnage. The rebel group said many people in the province are rejoicing over the downfall of Ampatuan.
Earlier, Mayor Ampatuan alleged that MILF commander Umbra Kato staged the deadly massacre and was behind the deaths of 57 people including mediamen. The MILF denied the allegations. (Hader Glang)