Philippines lifts martial law

Philippines lifts martial law

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo approved the lifting today of a week-long period of martial law in a southern Philippine province where 57 people were massacred last month in the country’s worst political violence.

Elsewhere in the south, authorities sought the help of a tribal chieftain to persuade government-armed former militiamen to release 47 hostages, even as police prepared a rescue operation.

Both incidents have underscored the lawlessness in a volatile region plagued by bandits, Muslim and communist insurgents and private armies.

Executive secretary Eduardo Ermita said the martial law edict would be lifted at 9pm local time (1pm Irish time) today, eight days after Arroyo signed the controversial proclamation, covering Maguindanao province.

The edict suspended the writ of habeas corpus, which allowed police and soldiers to arrest suspects without court warrants.

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 blamed for the November 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 Ampatuans have ruled Maguindanao for years and are allies of Arroyo, but the ruling party expelled them days after the killings.

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, would 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.

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