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Written by Butch Fernandez and Fernan Marasigan / Reporters
Sunday, 06 December 2009 22:21
OPPOSITION leaders in the Senate voiced fears that Malacañang imposed martial law in Maguindanao partly to conceal proof of massive electoral fraud in the province where President Arroyo and her administration bets won big in the 2004 and 2007 elections with the help of members of the beleaguered Ampatuan clan.

On the eve of a Senate caucus to scrutinize Presidential Proclamation 1959 placing Maguindanao under martial law, Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr. prodded the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to take custody of the ballot boxes and other election paraphernalia reportedly confiscated along with a cache of firearms and ammunition by military units that raided the Ampatuan mansions recently.

“One possible reason for the martial-law declaration might be to cover up the massive fraud that marred the 2004 presidential and 2007 senatorial elections in the province,” he said, suggesting that “President Arroyo and her cohorts are afraid the Ampatuans may expose the rigging of election results in Maguindanao that enabled her to win over opposition challenger Fernando Poe Jr. in the 2004 elections, and administration candidates to sweep the senatorial polls in the province in 2007.”

According to Pimentel, he received reports that the Ampatuans have threatened that if the government would pin them down, they would reveal what really happened in the past two elections. He was informed that during the raids conducted by the military and police forces, the raiders discovered and confiscated ballot boxes containing election documents.

In separate statements, former President Joseph Estrada and his runningmate, Makati Mayor Jojo Binay, also opposed the Arroyo government’s declaration of martial law in Maguindanao.

“A martial-law declaration is not necessary to bring peace and order and achieve justice for the victims of the Maguindanao massacre,” Estrada said.

Binay, for his part, noted that legitimate questions arose as to the “real motive” behind the declaration of martial law in Maguindanao.

“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.”

If such reports are true, Binay added, “then this reduces the martial-law proclamation into a hunt for evidence of election fraud [and] it would now appear that the Arroyo administration is using the full might of the state—the Armed Forces, the police and all agencies of government—to recover original election returns or certificates of canvas reportedly in the possession of the Ampatuans as a state of martial law will allow the administration to conduct raids and searches without going through the courts.”

Binay bemoaned that the Arroyo administration is not just committing another injustice to the victims of the Maguindanao massacre.

“They are exploiting the nation’s outrage to cover up another serious crime, that of stealing the 2004 elections.”

Tuesday Senate caucus; debates in Congress

AT the same time, Pimentel confirmed that Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile is set to call an all-Senators’ caucus at 9 a.m. on Monday to discuss the martial law declaration.

Fiery debates on President Arroyo’s declaration of martial law in Maguindanao are expected in Congress when it resumes its sessions on Monday even as militant legislators are filing a resolution seeking to revoke its imposition.

Loyal congressional allies of Mrs. Arroyo are expected to defend Proclamation 1959 when the Senate and the House of Representatives hold a joint session whether   to revoke Mrs. Arroyo’s declaration.

The Makabayan coalition in the House—Party-list Reps. Satur Ocampo, Teodoro Casiño and Neri Colmenares of Bayan Muna; Liza Maza and Luzviminda Ilagan of Gabriela; Rafael Mariano and Joel Maglunsod of Anakpawis; and Raymond Palatino of Kabataan said they would do everything humanly possible to oppose what they called “an emerging Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo dictatorship.”

All, except the young Palatino, were active in the anti-Marcos dictatorship struggle.

They reiterated their stand that Proclamation 1959 was unconstitutional as there is no rebellion or invasion in Maguindanao. They also said it was unnecessary since a state of emergency had already been declared in the area, and the Armed Forces, National Police and other government agencies had enough powers to deal with the aftermath of the Maguindanao massacre.

“We believe Proclamation 1959 is meant to be a precedent. It is an attempt to impose martial law even without the requirements specified in the Constitution. If GMA [Mrs. Arroyo] gets away with this one in Maguindanao, she can get away with it in any other province or the whole country,” they said in a statement.

“We demand that Congress act immediately to revoke Proclamation 1959 and protect our people from similar threats to their democratic rights and freedoms,” they added.

‘Declaration overdue’

Lakas-Kampi-CMD Rep. Antonio Alvarez of Palawan, meanwhile, said the declaration of martial law in Maguindanao was long overdue.

“She [President Arroyo] should have declared it a long time ago as signs point to lawlessness in the area,” said Alvarez.

But the delay proves that it was a well-thought-of move, not precipitate, and carefully calculated, he added.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Arroyo’s allies in the House dismissed as ridiculous and unfounded the critics’ claim that the martial-law declaration in Maguindanao was a ploy scenario for charter change (Cha-cha) and a no-elections (no-el). They expressed confidence that President Arroyo and her administration can adequately justify before Congress and even the Supreme Court the necessity of issuing Proclamation 1959.

Lakas-Kampi-CMD Rep. Rodito Albano of Isabela said critics, especially opposition candidates, are exaggerating the martial-law proclamation in Maguindanao for media mileage and to attract voters.

“It’s absurd for them to think that the martial-law declaration is in pursuit of Cha-cha and no-el. They’ve always been propagating lies about Cha-cha and no-el but none of these ever materialized during the term of President Arroyo. Their main concern should be the pursuit of justice, peace and normalcy in Maguindanao, not their own vested interests,” said Albano.

Alvarez said he doesn’t think the Joint Congress will revoke the declaration once it reviews the report of the President “because the situation in Maguindanao warrants a martial law imposition.”

NPC: watch situation closely

“WE hope the move to declare martial law in Maguindanao would not lead to the wholesale curtailment of the people’s constitutional rights, especially press freedom,” Benny Antiporda, NPC president said.

He noted that the declaration was presaged by President  Arroyo’s order for police and military authorities to neutralize all the so-called private armies in various parts of the country.

“While it is about time that these private armed thugs—many of them trained by our national-security forces—are dismantled, we hope that the martial-law declaration in Maguindanao would not spill to other provinces branded as ‘potential trouble spots’ by the authorities and, eventually, Metro Manila,” Antiporda added.

He also warned the public to be wary of the possibility that certain quarters are out to take advantage of the situation in Maguindanao to further “create an environment of fear that would justify the imposition of martial law on a grander scale.”

CHR chief: Nullify 1959

NEVER again to martial law.

This was the strongly worded statement of Leila de Lima, chairperson of the Commission on Human Rights, who also called for a nationwide pressure on Congress to nullify the declaration of martial law, warning that it was “ominous.”

“It might spread [all over the country],” de Lima said in Pilipino at the forum with human-rights advocates gathered in Davao City on Saturday on the second Mindanao Human Rights Summit. “There are already two provinces under martial law, the other one in Sulu.”

De Lima said the CHR would like Malacañang to explain “its basis for the declaration,” noting the Palace’s claim that martial law was declared due to the presence of armed men and that there was a clamor to serve justice to the victims. If this was so, “then why not declare the entire country under martial law because there are a lot of armed groups in the country, and a lot of people who are seeking justice.”

She said Maguindanao was already teeming with military personnel that their number would be adequate enough to contain any threat to deliver justice.

“Why the need to declare martial law to make the perpetrators answer to their crimes? Is martial law really needed to arrest the murderers?

“Never again to martial law. That should be our response,” she said partly in Pilipino.

De Lima said martial law was declared due to reports that armed men were massing up near the massacre site and guerrilla forces were also seen converging.

“I think this was a preemptive move. But I don’t think these are justified reasons to declare martial law.”

Meanwhile, de Lima said the team of CHR investigators, Department of Justice prosecutors and the two Peruvian forensic experts were stranded in Cotabato City awaiting the official statement of the military clearing the way for their exhumation of the grave sites for more suspected bodies.

“With martial law, we are now getting conflicting advice from the military. Some said that we should not go because of the armed men. The others say that it’s now safe,” she said.

She confirmed reports that government agencies and even private companies in Maguindanao have refused to lend their backhoe equipment to exhume the grave sites in Ampatuan town.

“The only agency that eventually allowed us to borrow their backhoe was the provincial government of Sultan Kudarat,” she said.

“But we cannot proceed because we are awaiting the clearance from the military,” she added.

A European Union executive who also spoke before the summit declined to comment on Malacañang’s declaration. But Nick Taylor, development counselor of the EU Delegation to the Philippines, said he would expect the international community “to say something about this.”

CBCP: Support, and alarm

MEMBERS of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) have expressed differing views over the martial-law declaration in Maguindanao, although most expressed alarm that human rights may be violated.

Cotabato Auxiliary Bishop Jose Colin Bagaforo agreed with Mrs. Arroyo’s declaration of martial law in the province “as long as its scope, terms and limits are within the Philippine Constitution of 1987.”

In an SMS to CBCPNews, the 55-year-old prelate said, “The elements of widescale violence are there” which “might be uncontrollable.”

He added, “The elements of general public safety and imminent danger to lives are there along with the elements of terrorism.”

Catarman Bishop Emmanuel Trance said he would trust Mrs. Arroyo’s declaration if it is only for Maguindanao and if it would be lifted as soon as possible and with no ulterior motive within constitutional limits.

“For us who have experienced martial law under Marcos, we become very wary and alarmed when such a decision is made because it should only be an instrument of last resort when other legal means does not work as may be deemed in the case of Maguindanao.”

(With M. Cayon, R. Acosta and S. Fabunan)

One Comment

  1. Greetings,

    I posted questions about the Maguindanao massacre on my blog. I hope to attract responses from the Philippine bloggers, including yourself:

    Thank you.

3 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. […] question the real motives behind the declaration. Pag-kilos ng kultura, for instance, reposts an article speculating that “One possible reason for the martial-law declaration might be to […]

  2. […] question the real motives behind the declaration. Pag-kilos ng kultura, for instance, reposts an article speculating that “One possible reason for the martial-law declaration might be to […]

  3. […] question the real motives behind the declaration. Pag-kilos ng kultura, for instance, reposts an article speculating […]

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