The Mindanao Peaceweavers (MPW) expresses alarm on the declaration of Martial Law in Maguindanao purportedly to enable government to move freely and get the witnesses and gather evidence without fear in relation to the massacre of 60 civilians, mostly women, in the Ampatuan stronghold last November 23.
The declaration, contained in Proclamation 1959, also suspended the writ of habeas corpus in the province. 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.”
Malacanang said armed groups, “numbering 40, 100, 300, and 400” are spread out in the province to prevent the arrests of the Ampatuans.
MPW believes that the declaration of Martial Law is a manifestation of the failure of governance in the country. There is no need to declare Martial Law for government to uphold the protection of the public and ensure the rule of law.
The culture of impunity traces itself back to Malacanang which has allowed local officials to convert their private armed groups into legal entities as civilian volunteer organizations (CVOs) despite the constitutional provision which bans private armed groups. This executive order should instead be immediately revoked. It is not only the Ampatuans who have built their own virtual private army. Tragedies like the Ampatuan massacre are waiting to happen if other “warlords” and local officials all over the country are allowed to maintain their own “armies”. Already, we take note of a build up of these kinds of armed entities in Sulu, Visayas and Luzon.
While we call on the immediate abrogation of Martial Law in Maguindanao, MPW meanwhile calls on the “peace general”, Lt. Gen Raymundo Ferrer, chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Eastern Mindanao Command who is tasked to take administrative control of Maguindanao to continue to be circumspect, transparent and ensure the strict observance of human rights by his soldiers. (30)