MANILA, Philippines (2nd UPDATE) - President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo on Saturday approved recommendations of her Cabinet to lift Proclamation No. 1959 declaring martial law and suspending the writ of habeas corpus in parts of Maguindanao province.
Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said the lifting of martial law will take effect 9 p.m. Saturday.
Ermita made the announcement after a National Security Council meeting held in Malacañang. Mrs. Arroyo met members of her Cabinet's security cluster after checking out of hospital on Saturday afternoon.
The Cabinet's security cluster made the recommendation based on reports from the Philippine National Police, Armed Forces of the Philippines, and the Department of Justice (DOJ).
Ermita said that based on the reports received by the President, a total of 529 people involved in an alleged rebellion, including leaders and supporters, have been placed under custody.
He said charges of rebellion have been filed against 24 people, including five members of the Ampatuan clan, led by its patriarch former Maguindanao Gov. Andal Ampatuan Sr.. A total of 638 complaints of rebellion have been referred by the police to the DOJ.
“You can be sure that with available witnesses, we are looking forward that we will be able to identify other people who have been involved in the rebellion,” Ermita said.
He added that security forces have also cleared "rebel positions" in the towns of Ampatuan, Rajah Buayan, Sultan Sabarongis, Datu Unsay, Mamasapano, Shariff Aguak, and Talayan.
4,000 troops to stay in Maguindanao
“They are no longer there. As of now, we have no sightings of these people. We can presume that they have dispersed and that being so, we will continue to conduct operations to hunt them,” said Victor Ibrado, Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
Ibrado said more than 4,000 troops are still deployed in Maguindanao. These troops consist of 6 infantry battalions, 2 mechanized infantry battalions, and 1 special operations command battalion.
“And that force is quite sufficient to control anything, any grouping that may happen later. If there will still be sightings or groupings of any force, that will be sufficient,” Ibrado said.
Philippine National Police chief Jesus Verzosa also said that different security elements are in place in critical areas.
“I think it will stand on securing the overall situation of the province of Maguindanao,” Verzosa said.
Justice system restored
Meanwhile, Ermita added that the criminal justice system and local government units in the province are "now in place and working."
Furthermore, he clarified that while martial law will be lifted, the state of emergency earlier declared will continue to be in effect three areas in Mindanao.
“Proclamation 1946 will continue to be in effect in the provinces of Maguindanao, Sultan Kudarat and the City of Cotabato,” said Ermita.
Rebellion and the malfunctioning of the judicial system and local government units were the main reasons for the issuance of Proclamation No. 1959 last December 5.
“We can say that the rebellion had been addressed, the purpose for which it was called is achieved,” Ermita said.
The lifting came ahead of Congress’ scheduled deliberation and voting on the martial law declaration next week.
The Executive Secretary added that the “final proclamation is to be announced later, [which] will be anytime tonight. We are going to prepare the transmittal letter to both Houses of the Congress”.
Members of the Senate and the House of Representatives were supposed to resume session on Monday and vote for or against the proclamation on Tuesday.
“We are going to leave it to both Houses of Congress. By ourselves, we cannot say automatically what they will do. We would have to await the word or decision from the leadership of Congress,” Ermita said.