MANILA, Philippines ? (UPDATE 4) President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has declared martial law in Maguindanao, a senior Malacañang official announced Saturday.
The declaration, contained in Proclamation 1959, also suspended the writ of habeas corpus in the province, Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita told an early Palace briefing.
Arroyo issued the proclamation days after at least 57 people, including women and dozens of journalists, were killed November 23 in what has been considered as the worst pre-election violence in the country.
The Ampatuans, a powerful clan in the province, have been tagged as suspects and the crackdown on members of the family began with the arrest, detention, and indictment for 25 counts of murder of Datu Unsay Mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr.
The declaration was prompted by reports of ?armed groups in the province of Maguindanao? establishing positions ?to resist government troops, thereby depriving the Executive of its powers and prerogatives to enforce the laws of the land and to maintain public order and safety? and of the ?deteriorating condition of peace and order to the extent that the local judicial system and other government mechanisms in the province are not functioning, thus endangering public safety,? said Ermita, reading from the proclamation.
In justifying Arroyo?s decision, Ermita quoted Section 18, Article 7 of the Constitution, that, ? [The President] in case of invasion or rebellion, when the public safety requires it, he [or she] may, for a period not exceeding sixty days, suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus or place the Philippines or any part thereof under martial law.?
"The report of the AFP and the PNP showed that there are armed groups that are massing and threatening to further cause disorder and lawlessness in the area,'' Ermita said.
The massing of these armed groups, their possible linking up with the massacre perpetrators who remained at large, and the recovery of a huge cache of high-powered firearms in Maguindanao constituted elements of rebellion, he said.
"The elements of rebellion are present, and hence the basis for the proclamation of martial law and the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus is established,'' he added.
At the same time, martial law and the suspension of the writ would be enforced in the entire province of Maguindanao, except in identified areas of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front under its agreement with the government on the cessation of hostilities, Ermita said.
He also said that government forces would be in full control to preserve peace and order in the province and arrest the perpetrators of the massacre and those plotting violence.
?Wherever they are, they will be arrested,? Ermita said.
Ermita said the decision to declare martial law was reached at about 9 p.m. Friday.
He said Malacanang would officially inform Congress about the proclamation, which Congress has 48 hours to act on.
Press Secretary Cerge Remonde said the President took the "bold step" in answer to the cries for justice of the victims? kin.
Arroyo named Lieutenant General Raymundo Ferrer to take administrative control of Maguindanao province.
Also present at the Palace briefing was Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief Victor Ibrado who said that they recommended the declaration of martial law following a meeting of top security officials late Friday.
?Based on the reports we received, there were a lot of groupings of armed groups in different places. We also received reports that they have plans to undertake hostile action if ever government officials, the Ampatuans particularly, were taken in custody. We felt this was very imminent threat, that's why we recommended this proclamation,? he said in a briefing in Malacañang.
He said armed groups, numbering 40, 100, 300, and 400 and spread out in the province, planned to prevent the arrests of the Ampatuans.
?They are large forces that could really undertake violent action against anybody in the province, so by their sheer number, they are a threat to the peace and order in the province,? Ibrado added.
?The threat is as serious as the barbaric massacre,? said Philippine National Police chief Jesus Versoza. ?The armed groups are sighted at different places in Maguindanao.?
"We're looking at around 100 that directly participated in the gruesome act. They have a lot of supporters, and we suspect that some of the direct participants of the massacre have joined the new supporters, and they are seen and sighted at different places,'' he said.
Ermita indicated that the massing of the armed groups could be just a subplot to preparations by both the Ampatuan and Mangudadatu clans for "armed action.''
"This situation continued to develop such that the protagonists started preparing themselves for future armed action. And this is exacerbated, aggravated by the reports... of armed groups massing to undertake some untoward incidents,'' he said.
According to Ibrado, there are 4,000 troops deployed in the province.
But apart from the massing of armed groups, the deterioration of law and order to a point where judges were balking at handling cases related to the massacre and at issuing search and arrest warrants for the suspects was also a factor.
"We'll have to point out to you, especially the judicial system, no judges will take the case. No judges will issue the proper search warrant and the warrants of arrest in the area, an that's part of the reason why this has to be done,'' Remonde said at the same briefing.
When asked what would prompt Ms Arroyo to lift the proclamation apart from a revocation by Congress, Ermita said,
?We will have to get a report from the field, from the AFP and the PNP, that the condition that prompted the President to issue Proclamation 1959 had improved and therefore the threat of further lawlessness and for that matter the probability of the occurrence of rebellion because of the conditions present is already down.?
Earlier on Saturday, Maguindanao Governor Andal Ampatuan Sr. was arrested by the military.
On Friday, authorities uncovered a cache of firearms near the house of the Ampatuan clan.