Rebellion Charges Filed Against Clan
|Posted by Manila Mail under Articles/Stories|
Government justifies martial law declaration in Maguindanao.
MANILA – Philippine prosecutors have filed charges of “rebellion” against five members of the Ampatuan clan, a powerful local group involved in the massacre of 57 people, 30 of them journalists, in Maguindanao.
The rebellion charges are in addition to the multiple murder charges already filed against Mayor Andal Ampatuan, Jr. who reportedly led the Nov. 23 massacre of the members of the rival political clan in the province and the journalists who were with them. (More massacre stories inside)
Government officials led by Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita appeared at the joint session of Congress Dec. 9 to justify the controversial imposition of martial law in the province on Dec. 4. They said the Ampatuan clan had already directed their “private army” to resist government forces. But opponents said the conditions to declare martial law have not been met. The Constitution allows it if there is actual rebellion or invasion by a foreign power.
Police have already arrested and detained the Ampatuan clan members, including the patriarch who is a close ally of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, under heavy guard in General Santos city.
Prosecutors said that after the killings, those charged had directed each other “to rise publicly and take arms against the Republic of the Philippines”.
“There were massive formations of numerous armed civilians supported by armoured vehicles and under the command of the Ampatuans who have formed a private army to resist government troops…,” said the charge sheet, signed by acting Maguindanao provincial prosecutor Leo Dacera.
Ampatuan Jr. is the main suspect in the Nov. 23 killings, in which members of a rival political clan were attacked while they were on their way to file the candidacy of one of their leaders for elections in 2010.
International groups are keenly watching developments in the Philippines with some group expressing concern over a reprise of the 1972 declaration of martial law by President Ferdinand Marcos. Amnesty International urged the Philippines to establish a “clear and short timetable” to end the martial law.
The international community is also watching if Arroyo will tackle the country’s culture of impunity for political killings, especially in a case that involves a close ally, the powerful Ampatuan clan.
The President has created a commission to recommend ways to dismantle all private armies of politicians throughout the country.
The declaration of martial law – the first in the country since 1972 – was criticized both as an overreaction and as a ploy to preserve Arroyo’s political standing. Critics question whether a rebellion is actually occurring.
“I think the decision to declare martial law was done to give Ms. Arroyo some breathing space … a smokescreen until she can figure out where to go from here,” says Pete Troilo, director of the Manila-based political risk consultancy, Pacific Strategies and Assessments. “It is well known the Ampatuans helped secure her election win in 2004 and helped her party win during the mid-term elections. So she knows they hold some valuable cards.”
The Ampatuan clan is one of the most powerful on restive Mindanao island. The family has ruled impoverished Maguindanao since 2001 with brute force and intimidation, helped by its militia armed by the Philippine government. The government has relied on such militias to help fight Muslim secessionists on the island.
Security forces in Maguindanao have seized massive caches of weapons and ammunition, and said they are pursuing thousands of the Ampatuans’ militiamen.
The Supreme Court, which the opposition claims to be pro-Arroyo, has thus far refused to issue a Temporary Restraining Order and instead asked Malacanang to explain the rationale for the declaration of martial law.
Meanwhile, critics said the government appeared to be creating a distraction from the more serious charge of multiple murders against the Ampituans by declaring martial law. They point out that rebellion charges in the Philippines today are not serious enough, citing the former military men who are still waiting trial for their actions.
One analyst, who did not want to be named, believes the government is trying to distract from the legal process. “I think the government is using the threat of a rebellion to hide an even bigger issue here,” he says. “Martial law has overshadowed the massacre and is now being focused on rebellion which is a non issue in this case… It doesn’t exist.”
Human rights lawyer Jejomar Binay, believes the declaration of martial law in Maguindanao could be a ruse to allow authorities to look for and eliminate evidence of election fraud during the 2004 presidential election.
“There have been reports that the Ampatuans have threatened to make the Arroyo administration pay by telling all they know about the massive cheating in the province during the 2004 presidential elections,” he says, referring to reports widely circulated in local media. “If such reports are true, then this reduces the martial law proclamation into a hunt for evidence of election fraud,” he added.
Meanwhile, government forces have launched an offensive against militiamen reportedly involved in a grisly massacre, a military spokesman said. Major Randolph Cabangbang said a joint team of soldiers and police officers were pursuing a group of about 100 paramilitary forces in an undisclosed location in Maguindanao province.
“We already gave them a chance to surrender but they did not so we launched the offensive,” he said. “So far, there have been no clashes yet.”
Police said investigators have identified 161 suspects in the mass killing in Ampatuan town on November 23. About 100 of the suspects were believed to be militiamen. Castaneda said multiple murder charges were being readied against these suspects.
Ampatuan Jr. who was charged with multiple murders and is now detained at the National Bureau of Investigation jail in Manila allegedly herded the victims, mostly journalists, family members and supporters of a rival politician, to a remote hilltop village in Ampatuan town where they were murdered.
Leila De Lima, chairwoman of the Commission on Human Rights, said her agency would be investigating information the Ampatuans killed at least 200 more people in various areas in Maguindanao.
De Lima said that based on initial information from witnesses, the victims were buried in mass graves scattered across the province.
“Given the opportunity there will be witnesses who can exactly pinpoint these mass graves,” she said. “These are the victims of the same clan and the private armies.”
Police and military forces continued searching for weapons stashed by the Ampatuans in their hometown in Shariff Aguak and nearby areas.
More than 1,000 firearms and hundreds of thousands of ammunition rounds have been recovered by soldiers and police since the start of the raids on Ampatuan homes.
Others who testified before the joint session of Congress are Interior Secretary Ronaldo V. Puno, Justice Secretary Agnes Devanadera, Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Director-General Jesus A. Verzosa, Defense Undersecretary Antonio C. Santos, Jr. and Armed Forces deputy chief Lt. Gen. Rodrigo F. Maclang.
Ms. Devanadera , concurrent solicitor general, noted that in issuing Proclamation 1959, “there need not be violent clashes” between armed rebels composed of the Ampatuans’ civilian auxiliary forces and state troopers.
The auxiliary force — composed of civilian volunteer organizations under the police, and Citizen Armed Force Geographic Unit under the military — was set up by the government in early 2000 to augment military efforts against Moro rebels.
Ms. Devanadera said the local courts are “not functioning” as several warrants have to be secured from judges outside Maguindanao; different municipal buildings have shut down; and that the armed groups are “not following orders from the duly constituted government but only from the Ampatuan clan.”
But senators, led by Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago who is pro-Arroyo, said the government failed to prove an actual rebellion existed to justify the proclamation.
“What Malacañang has done is simply to prove that rebellion at best is imminent, is about to happen,” she told reporters.
She noted that records of the Constitutional Commission that drafted the 1987 Charter indicated that there should be an actual armed public uprising.
But Ms. Devanadera said: “It was an actual rebellion as reported by the Armed Forces and the PNP… In the reports, the Chief Executive was being deprived from enforcing the laws.”
Seventeen out of the 24 senators have signed a resolution declaring as unconstitutional Mrs. Arroyo’s proclamation that put parts of Maguindanao under martial law.
“While we concede that we may not have the numbers sufficient to revoke the martial law, this Senate resolution still sends a strong signal that an overwhelming majority of the Senate rejects President Arroyo’s martial law proclamation as being contrary to law,” said Senator Francis N. Pangilinan.