Philippines lifts martial law in southern province

10:09, December 13, 2009      

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Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo on Saturday lifted the martial law in the volatile southern province of Maguindanao after security forces in eight days arrested 52 people for inciting rebellion and persuaded more than 100 break-away government militiamen to surrender.

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita announced Saturday that Arroyo made the decision as notable accomplishments in law and order were achieved during the past week.

The suspension of the martial law, the first one in three decades after late strongman president Ferdinand Marcos, went into effect on 9 p.m. Saturday (1700 GMT).

But around 4,000 troops, backed by tanks and fighter jets, will stay put in the province, military authorities said, as Maguindanao and neighboring Sultan Kudarat province and Cotabato city remain under a state of emergency.

"We shall continue with the military and police operations against the remaining suspects and strengthen even more our checkpoints to ensure that the people are insulated against hostile acts of the private armed groups that we intend to disarm and dismantle," Lieutenant General Raymundo Ferrer, chief of the Eastern Mindanao Command and Maguindanao martial law administrator, told local media.

Arroyo imposed the martial law in Maguindanao on Dec. 4 after military cited armed groups loyal to a local political clan massing up to resist the central government's take-over of the province. Senior security officials estimated the number of run-away former government militiamen could top 3,000.

Prominent members of the Ampatuan clan, who controls most of the top government seats in the province, were accused of ordering the mass killings of 57 civilians in the country's worst election-related violence on Nov. 23.

Ermita said by Saturday at least three people have been charged with multiple murder and 24 others for rebellion before the courts.

Andal Ampatuan Jr., mayor of Datu Unsay, was arrested on Nov. 26 as a top suspect and was later charged with 25 accounts of murder. His father Andal Ampatuan Sr., the clan patriarch, is among the 24 being charged with rebellion.

Ermita said police also referred to the Justice Department a total of 247 persons for multiple murder charges and 638 for rebellion.

He said police and military also cleared "rebel positions" in several towns in Maguindanao and the criminal justice system resumes functioning while new provincial leaders were appointed, accelerating the restoration to normalcy of the local government units.

The use of the martial law draws mixed reactions. While supporters, including the influential Catholic Church, said it provides the tool to timely arrest the prepatrators, Arroyo's critics described the proclamation as an "over-kill" and could lead to wide-spread abuses of the executive power as in the last days of President Marcos' iron-fist rule.

But the lifting of the military rule is welcomed by both sides.

"I think now that that's lifted, the people's fears against arrest without warrant, search without warrant would be gone," Maguindanao Representative Simeon Datumanong, a relative of the Ampatuans and an administration ally, told the on-line news network INQUIRER.NET.

The Congress on Wednesday convened to start a heated debate on the issue and originally scheduled next Tuesday to either approve or revoke Arroyo's proclamation by a majority vote.

Speaker of the House of Representatives Prospero Nograles said now he would call a formal end of the joint Congress session next week.

Source: Xinhua
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