Martial law declared in Philippine province after massacre

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Sunday, December 6, 2009

Philippine officials have put a southern province under martial law today, and arrested the patriarch of a powerful clan, following last week's massacre of 57 people. Government officials say President Gloria Arroyo suspended civil rights in the Maguindanao province.

This comes soon after the Philippine authorities received reports that some groups were arming themselves to resist arrests by security forces.

Officials said that troops took Andal Ampatuan Senior, the local governor, and his son Zaldy Ampatuam, into custody at their home in Maguindanao. Another of Ampatuan's sons, Andal Ampatuan Junior, is already in jail in connection with the massacre. More than 100 soldiers and dozens of police raided homes belonging to the Ampatuan family Friday. The Ampatuan clan has ruled the southern province of Maguindanao for more than a decade.

"There are more than 80 people suspected of having participated [...] We need a massive force to assist ordinary police to be able to arrest them. It appears that if martial law [...] is not adapted, the probability of trouble is very high because they will prevent themselves from getting arrested," said acting defence secretary Eduardo Armita to the Al Jazeera news agency.

Martial law has not been imposed anywhere in the Philippines for the last 28 years.

During the November 23 massacre, about a hundred gunmen attacked and slaughtered members of a convoy traveling to register politician Esmael Mangudadatu for governor — challenging the Ampatuan clan's hold on power. The dead included Mangudadatu's wife, sisters, and supporters. More than half the victims were journalists.

President Arroyo has faced intense pressure to take action against the violence because of her political ties to the Ampatuan clan. She continues to promise justice will be served.