Police arrest Ampatuans, supporters

December 6, 2009 1:43 am 

MANILA, Dec. 5 –Police authorities, backed by soldiers, detained Saturday Maguindanao Gov. Datu Andal Ampatuan Sr. as a principal suspect in the Nov. 23 massacre of at least 57 people, among them some 30 journalists.

The arrest of the Ampatuan patriarch, along with six other political leaders and government officials in Maguindanao, including Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao Gov. Zaldy Ampatuan, came on the heels of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s imposition of martial law and suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus in Maguindanao to restore the rule of law, and to prevent further breakdown of civilian government operations in the province.

The arrests came as crime investigators stepped up their probe into the carnage that drew worldwide outrage and condemnation.

In a media briefing early Saturday morning, Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said the proclamation was necessary to ward off lawlessness and violence amidst investigations into the carnage.

On Nov. 24, the President placed Maguindanao, along with the province of Sultan Kudarat and Cotabato City, under a state of emergency. The three political entities are part of the ARMM.

In the same briefing, Press Secretary Cerge Remonde said the President took “the bold step in response to the cry for justice of the families of the victims.” <Remonde said that the judicial system in the province was no longer working, and that no judge would issue search or arrest warrants for fear of their safety.

The press secretary also said that the peace and order condition in the province had so deteriorated to the extent that the local government had stopped functioning, thus, endangering public safety.

According to Ermita, the President issued Proclamation No. 1959 to thwart armed resistance to the arrest of people implicated in the gruesome crime.

Ermita also cited intelligence reports about the presence of armed groups, each with a force of 40 to 400 people. He said the armed men have established positions in critical areas with the apparent objective of resisting government troops out to enforce the law and maintain public order.

The Maguindanao governor, arrested in connection with the crime, is being held at the AFP’s Western Visayas Mindanao Command.

ARMM Gov. Zaldy Ampatuan, a son of the provincial governor, was taken by the police to Gen. Santos City, where he is now being interrogated for his possible role in the massacre.

The five other suspects now in detention were Maguindanao Vice Gov. Ahkmad Datu Ampatuan, Shariff Aguak Mayor Anwar Ampatuan, Shariff Aguak councilors Fai Sal Sulaik and Kahoner Ampatuan, and ARMM Agriculture Secretary Kaiser Usman.

Zaldy’s brother, Mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr. of Datu Unsay town, had voluntarily surrendered after initial investigation indicated he led the group that snatched and executed the 57 victims, among them the wife and two sisters of Buluan Vice Mayor Ishmael Mangudadatu.

Other suspects, according to Armed Forces chief Gen. Victor Ibrado, have already sent surrender feelers, apparently feeling the heat of relentless pursuit by government troops.

Under Proclamation No. 1959 dated Dec. 4, 2009, martial law is in force and the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus is suspended in the whole of Maguindanao,

Explaining the proclamation, Ermita said that the President, under Sec. 18, Art. 7 of Republic Act 6986, has the powers to proclaim martial law and suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus for a period not exceeding 60 days in the Philippines or any part thereof in case of rebellion or insurrection.

According to PNP chief Gen. Jesus Versoza, the police and the military were closely working together, adding that police investigators were in the process of retrieving vital pieces of evidence to support cases against the suspects.

He said authorities had recently unearthed a huge cache of high-powered firearms, including mortars, automatic weapons and anti tank weapons, thousands of rounds of ammunition, and explosives in a lot close to an Ampatuan residence.

Versoza said the arms cache, along with the armed groups massing in the province in an apparent bid to protect the suspects, meant that “the elements of rebellion are present, hence the basis for the declaration of martial law.”

He also said the Ampatuans would be made to account for the firearms dug up a few meters from their residences.

President Arroyo, Ermita said, would make a report on Proclamation No. 1959 to Congress within 48 hours to seek legislative concurrence, as provided for by the Constitution.

He added that Congress, in turn, would have to call a special session within 24 hours to determine the validity of the proclamation. (PNA) RMA/OPS/rsm

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