December 13, 2009 11:20 pm

Arroyo lifts martial law in southern Philippines

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Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, president of the Philippines, lifted martial law in the southern province of Maguindanao eight days after it was imposed following a massacre in which 57 people were killed.

Eduardo Ermita, the head of Mrs Arroyo’s cabinet, said the “objectives of her unprecedented move have been attained”.

“Threats to governance in Maguindanao were eliminated, enabling the criminal justice system to function again, while local government functions were likewise restored,” he said.

However, many politicians, including some of Mrs Arroyo’s allies, saw her unexpected move as a reaction to widespread criticism.

The government said it imposed martial law because groups loyal to the Ampatuan clan in Maguindanao, some of which are suspected to have organised the attack on a rival political family that led to the massacre, were planning a rebellion after the arrest of a clan member.

But opposition groups and analysts say the measure was unjustified as there was no concrete evidence of an invasion or rebellion in the province, as required under the 1987 constitution.

Critics had compared the imposition of martial law with a similar move by Ferdinand Marcos in1972, which ushered in more than a decade of one-man rule.

Congress was due to vote on whether to endorse the measure on Tuesday.

When Mrs Arroyo imposed martial law last week, her military chief said the measure might have to stay in place until shortly before Christmas Day.

In Maguindanao, Christians and city dwellers were unsettled by the early lifting of martial law that they felt was still needed to fully restore peace and order.

“Because of [martial law’s] brevity, one clan will be significantly disarmed, the balance of political and armed power will shift to other clans [and] private armies will remain,” wrote Orlando Quevedo, the Catholic bishop of Cotabato city.

However, Muslims and rural people welcomed the withdrawal of the military, whose checkpoints impeded their daily activities.

“In some places in the interior villages, transportation has stopped because about 20 drivers were taken in for questioning when they could not present identification cards,” said one resident by mobile phone.

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