MANILA, Philippines--Malacanang lifted martial law in Maguindanao Saturday night after defending it for eight days against protests, legal cases and questions from lawmakers.
President Macapagal-Arroyo approved the Cabinet security cluster group?s recommendation to lift martial law in the province during an hour-long emergency meeting in Malacañang Saturday afternoon, Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said at a press briefing.
?At the end she said, ?If that is what you think we must do, go ahead, prepare the proclamation,?? Ermita said.
Ms Arroyo briefly checked out of the St. Luke?s Medical Center in Quezon City to preside over the emergency meeting. She checked back in later to resume her regular physical checkup in preparation for her trip to Copenhagen on Wednesday to attend the UN climate change conference.
Proclamation No. 1959 declaring martial law and suspending the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus in Maguindanao was issued by Ms Arroyo on Dec. 4.
The Palace had said it was done to suppress a ?rebellion in the offing? by disparate armed groups loyal to the Ampatuan clan, a close Arroyo ally that is believed responsible for the Nov. 23 massacre of 57 persons in Maguindanao.
The imposition of martial law drew a storm of protests, seven petitions asking the Supreme Court to nullify Proclamation 1959, and acrimonious debate at a historic joint session of Congress on whether to revoke it.
But the Supreme Court?s directive for the government to comment on the seven petitions questioning Proclamation 1959 and to submit the President?s report on martial law stays.
?It?s a standing directive. If indeed [martial law] would be lifted, the government can manifest that it has been lifted,? said Gleo Guerra, deputy spokesperson of the high court.
Guerra also said the petitions against martial law would still be discussed on Tuesday when the justices sit in an en banc session.
?It?s on the agenda,? she said.
Lt. Gen. Raymundo Ferrer, chief of the Eastern Mindanao Command and martial law administrator in Maguindanao, said the military operations in the province would not be affected ?as we have gained the necessary momentum since Dec. 4.
?The arrests, searches and seizures that we have made will contribute to building an airtight case against the masterminds of the Nov. 23 massacre. And that is the essential accomplishment of the short-lived martial law,? he said, adding:
?We shall continue with the military and police operations against the remaining suspects and strengthen even more our checkpoints to ensure that the people are insulated against hostile acts of the private armed groups that we intend to disarm and dismantle.?
?No point to continue?
The Senate and the House of Representatives were to have voted in joint session on the martial law proclamation on Monday.
Speaker Prospero Nograles, who stood pat on his position that martial law in Maguindanao was correct, said Congress would meet Monday but only to adjourn the session.
??The action of Malacañang only affirms our position that martial law in Maguindanao was only declared to ensure the swift restoration of peace and order in the province and quell the escalation of violence in the area,? he said.
Interviewed over dwIZ radio, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile said there was no point for the joint session to continue because ?the reason for [it] has lapsed.?
Enrile said he had yet to confer with Nograles on what they would do. But he guessed that the joint session would have to convene Monday in order to formally adjourn.
?We simply suspended the session [last Friday]. And if [martial law has] been lifted, we just have to adjourn and end it,? Enrile said.
?Those who are afraid of the phantom of martial law will now be silent and will no longer be stressed out,? he said.
But Sen. Benigno Aquino III said Congress and the Supreme Court should decide on the legality of Ms Arroyo?s imposition of martial law in Maguindanao despite her decision to lift it.
Aquino said Ms Arroyo had deprived Congress of its constitutional mandate to exercise oversight, and that the people ?should not be carried away by feelings of relief over the lifting of martial law.?
He said he had learned that Speaker Nograles now wanted to adjourn the joint session of Congress on Monday.
?As the President has done before, so she?s doing it again: She has pushed the envelope but withdrawn her controversial proclamations before anyone can actually render a verdict on their legality or wisdom,? Aquino said in a statement.
?The Supreme Court and Congress must continue to examine and pass judgment on this illegal martial law declaration in order to set the proper guidelines for the correct exercise of the President?s powers,? he said.
?That little girl?
According to Sen. Joker Arroyo, ?now everything is academic.?
?The joke is on us,? Arroyo said in a phone interview. ?That little girl must be amused and laughing at us [after] tormenting us legislators and petitioners who went to the Supreme Court.?
Arroyo said that as 268 congressmen and 23 senators were quarreling among themselves on whether to support or revoke the martial law proclamation, the President ?kept her game plan to herself.?
?Just possibly, the President knew all along she would lift it at the right time,? he said, adding that she would not have achieved her objectives without ?the shield of martial law.?
But militant lawmakers were unimpressed.
Bayan Muna Rep. Satur Ocampo said that based on the questioning at the joint session of Congress, Malacañang lifted martial law to save face and to avoid having the legislature or the judiciary revoke it.
Akbayan Rep. Risa Hontiveros aired a similar comment and warned that the government could use martial law again even without an actual rebellion, as it did in Maguindanao.
?Proclamation 1959 sets a dangerous precedent. It was a trial balloon to check if they can manufacture a rebellion to impose iron rule, and because Congress dilly-dallied, it turned out that they can,? she said.
Hontiveros threatened to file cases against the government officials involved in the martial law declaration.
?We cannot allow their incompetence to compromise our civil liberties,? she said.
Ermita said at the briefing that ?the rebellion has been addressed and the purpose for which [martial law] was [imposed] has been achieved.?
?Law and order has been restored,? he said, but added that Maguindanao, along with Sultan Kudarat and Cotabato City, remained under a state of emergency under the earlier issued Proclamation 1946.
Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno said ?we don?t know for sure? if the rebellion had been ?completely quelled.?
?What we know is that there still exists a situation of emergency,? Puno said, adding that ground troops were sufficient to address this.
Armed Forces Chief of Staff Gen. Victor Ibrado and Philippine National Police Director General Jesus Verzosa said more than 4,000 troops would remain on the ground for the meantime.
?That force is quite sufficient to control any grouping if there will be sighting of grouping of any force,? Ibrado said.
He and Verzosa said the manhunt for other suspects would continue.
?We will now perform according to our usual functions of security. Under the state of emergency, we still have to control main highways, and set up checkpoints to check movement of persons,? Verzosa said.
Conditions for lifting
The security cluster group recommended the lifting of Proclamation 1959 based on the following conditions:
Charges of multiple murder were filed and cases against 247 persons were referred to the Department of Justice, while rebellion charges were filed against 24 persons, and cases against 638 persons were referred to the DOJ.
62 were arrested for rebellion; 128 CVOS surrendered, and 339 others were taken in custody.
The military and police cleared ?rebel positions? in the towns of Ampatuan, Datu Unsay, Shariff Aguak and several others.
The criminal justice system is back in place and working.
The local government has been restored to normalcy with the appointment of Vice Gov. Ansarudin Adiong as governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.
Ermita said Malacañang would ?prepare? the transmittal to Congress of the proclamation lifting martial law.
?We will get some sense from the leaders of the Senate and the House what they will do when they receive that ... They will have to make a decision, and inform us what will happen to the scheduled hearing at 4 p.m. Monday,? he said.
Asked if martial was lifted to preempt the Congress vote and the high court?s ruling on Proclamation 1959, Acting Justice Secretary Agnes Devanadera said: ?Martial law is a power that is exercised out of necessity and when public safety requires ... And as reported by the PNP and the AFP, there?s no longer a threat to public safety; this power of necessity must be logically lifted.?
But Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano called on the people to continue to be vigilant ?now that [the Palace has] tested martial law and [seen] how different institutions reacted.?
?There may still be a deeper plan,? Cayetano said in a text message.
Sen. Loren Legarda said the Palace decision was ?a great relief? to the people of Maguindanao and the public in general, as well as ?to us lawmakers who can now focus on more important things like passing the budget, providing jobs and fighting hunger.?
Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago was somehow comforted by the thought that her assertions against Proclamation 1959 might have contributed to the Palace decision.
?That?s what I have been advocating all along. I asked President Arroyo to lift [martial law in Maguindanao] and not to listen to her so-called advisers,? Santiago said in an interview over dwIZ.
She said Malacañang had become a nest of intrigues, with some people there advising Ms Arroyo to promote, not the national interest, but their own interest.