Saturday, December 05, 2009

Arroyo declares martial law in Maguindanao; Ampatuan patriarch, sons linked to massacre arrested

Photos sent to the Mindanao Examiner show the bodies of some journalists who were among 57 brutally killed November 23, 2009 in Maguindanao province. At least 30 journalists were killed in the attack.

COTABATO CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / December 5, 2009) – President Gloria Arroyo on Saturday placed Maguindanao under a state of martial rule and authorities quickly arrested the patriarch of a powerful political clan linked to the brutal slayings of 57 people in the southern province.

Aside from Andal Ampatuan Snr who is the governor of Maguindanao, police and military also arrested several clan members, including the patriarch’s sons, the governor of the Muslim autonomous region, Zaldy Ampatuan, and his brothers Akmad Ampatuan, the deputy provincial governor; and the mayor of Shariff Aguak town, Anwar Ampatuan and are being questioned over the November 23 mass murders.

The elder Ampatuan was brought to hospital in Davao City due to hypertension and would be under the custody of the military’s Eastern Mindanao Command.

In a press conference in Manila on Saturday, Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said the martial rule in Maguindanao will allow authorities to arrest without warrants all those implicated in the killings and bring order in the province.

But he was quick to say that areas identified as strongholds of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front rebels, who are negotiating peace with Manila, are exempted from the martial rule.

The patriarch of the Ampatuan clan was later brought to hospital in Davao City because of hypertension and the regional governor is being held by the police in General Santos City.

Justice Secretary Agnes Devanadera said some members of the Ampatuan clan are considered suspects in the murders of 57 people, among them at least 30 journalists and the rest supporters and family members of Esmael Mangudadatu, the deputy mayor of Buluan town who is a candidate for governor in Maguindanao in next year’s polls.

The chief suspect in the massacre, Andal Ampatuan Jnr, the mayor of Datu unsay town, surrendered three days after the brutal murders and denied involvement in the attack and pointed to the MILF instead. Authorities rejected the allegations, saying, witnesses tagged him as the leader of the group that abducted and massacred the 57 people, who were on their way to file Mangudadatu’s nomination papers with the local poll office.

Devanadera said that aside from Ampatuan Jnr and his father, the other suspects on their list included Zaldy Ampatuan, Nords Ampatuan, Akmad Ampatuan, Saudi Ampatuan Jr, Bahnarian Ampatuan and Sajid Ampatuan. They also denied the accusations against them.

She said the suspects have varying degrees of participation either before and during or after the mass murders, based on the statements of witnesses.

Judges handling the cases in Mindanao were also being threatened by unidentified groups that forced them to hide ands even journalists were also being threatened for their coverage of the massacre and linking the Ampatuan clan to the grisly killings.

Army Lieutenant General Raymundo Ferrer, chief of the Eastern Mindanao Command, said thousands of troops were deployed in Maguindanao to track down those who were involved in the massacre. He said security forces would respect human rights.

“We will see to it that our soldiers will perform their duties to protect the people and we will see to it that all our arrests will be in accordance with the law and proper procedures in coordination with the police,” Ferrer said.

Security forces have recovered Thursday a huge cache of light artillery and heavy infantry weapons and munitions buried in a vacant lot near the mansions of the Ampatuans. The next day, police, backed by army soldiers, raided the mansions and seized more illegal weapons.

The martial rule in Maguindanao will take effect for 60 days and will be lifted only after the peace and order situation returns to normal.

Mangudadatu said he is supporting Arroyo’s martial law declaration, but urged authorities to arrest all those involved in the killings. “I am happy with the declaration of martial law in Maguindanao, but there is a dire need to arrest all those involved in the massacre,” he said.

Army Major General Gaudencio Pangilinan said armed supporters of the Ampatuan were reported massing in several towns in Maguindanao and that soldiers were ordered to step up security in the province.

“We have reports that armed men who are supporters of the Ampatuan are massing up and they could engage our forces or ambush the troops. It is better for them to surrender peacefully and give up their up their weapons,” he said.

Police said the armed groups were part of the private armies of the Ampatuan clan, which included government militias and rogue policemen. “These armed men are private armies of the Ampatuan,” the police’s operations chief, Andres Caro, said. (Mindanao Examiner)

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