Philippines: Martial Law Declared in Maguindano Province

Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has issued proclamation 1959 declaring a state of martial law in the province Maguindanao for up to 60 days, the nearby province of Sultan Kuderat and Cotabato City are under a state of emergency.

A announcement was made shortly after dawn on Saturday in Manila.

This reveses earlier reports that may have been intended by Palace officails to downplay or mis-direct groups targeted in a series of massive arrests to take place today.

The announcement comes after government troops and police found an arms cache in the home of provincial officail of Maguindanao province that effectively could arm a battalion sized unit of infrantry including a armoured personel carrier along with heavy machine guns and mortars.

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo presides over the National Security Council Meeting Friday (December 4) at Malacanang's Aguinaldo State Dining Room. Also in photo are (from left) Defense Secretary Norberto Gonzales, Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita and Press Secretary Cerge Remonde. (Rico Borja/OPS-NIB Photo)

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo presides over the National Security Council Meeting Friday (December 4) at Malacanang’s Aguinaldo State Dining Room. Also in photo are (from left) Defense Secretary Norberto Gonzales, Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita and Press Secretary Cerge Remonde. Photo Handout: Rico Borja/OPS-NIB Photo

Maguindanao has been the focus of global media attention and while most of the principal suspects accused of masterminding the murders have either been arrested or detained others are isolated by government troops surrounding compounds of local warlords.At the same time Arroyo has ordered a task force to go after private armies in the country.

This comes in the wake of soldiers seizing an arms cache believed to be that of a local warlord clan in maguindanao province that was full of military grade weapons.

Only one Press release or statement on new developments to intensify efforts to after large private armed groups was posted on Government websites.

A statement issued at 7am was leaked hours before on local television channels and by several news organizations more than a day before the actual declartion. Overnight calls made this writer to several palace and security officails who refused to comment and some who even officailly denied any such plan existed.

However, by dawn this morning the reports have proven through and that effect of the susspension of writ of habeas corpus is nationwide in case involving those who may be wanted in connection with the Maguindanao massacre.

Commission created to dismantle Private Armies:

A high level commission has been formed to dismantle private armed groups, especially those controlled by political clans. President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and the National Security Commission adopted this course of action in response to the Maguindanao massacre and in an effort to avert other election-related violence.

Press Secretary Cerge Remonde and Interior and Local Government Secretary Ronaldo Puno made the disclosure in a media briefing today. “The PNP and the Commission on Elections have already identified hot spots” that need vigilant monitoring and surveillance,” Puno said. “The existence of hot spots and private armies was considered a priority area of concern by the NSC,” Remonde said.

Puno explained that during elections, the PNP has always been under the direct supervision and guidance of the Comelec. On why a commission had to be created to dismantle private armed groups,

Remonde said this “will give focus and emphasis and put more teeth and impetus to the President’s desire to ensure a fair, clean, honest and orderly elections in 2010.”

Puno added that the creation of the commission will insure transparency in the dismantling of private armed groups since it would involve the different institutions of government. Remonde said the commission will be headed by a retired justice of the Supreme Court, whom he refused to name “pending notification and acceptance (of our invitation).

Versoza said the creation of the commission will take off from the authorities’ investigation on the Maguindanao massacre and “the political dimension on how the massacre transpired and the involvement of several para- military groups, police personnel and special CAFGUs (SCAA).

“This commission—which will still be composed– will not just look into dismantling but the political and historical socio- economic reasons for these groups with the end in view of addressing the root of the phenomenon,”

Remonde said. Puno said the government will work at dismantling all private armies. “We are not favoring any group in this.” Versoza said there are still existing private armies in Maguindanao. “We can see that it is a very big private armed groups that perpetrated the massacre. We already charged Datu Unsay Ampatuan Jr. and we have also identified 12 suspects.

The Department of Justice is investigating them. This is organized criminal group that perpetrated the massacre.” Versoza added that PNP is now reviewing the disposition of civilian volunteer organizations (armed groups) that are being used by different politicians.

These include groups like SCAA (special CAFGUs) and other private armed groups. Puno said there are also civilian armed auxiliary and special armed auxiliary.

The SCAA are seconded by local gove4rnment to the Armed Forces but are authorized to carry firearms and so with police auxiliaries but the CVOs are not authorized per se to use or carry firearms. Thus CVOs are committing illegal use of firearms. Right now there is large majority of individuals in Maguindanao that are CVOs who armed themselves illegally, which constitute private armies.

The Armed Forces has dismantled 300 strong SCAA and police auxiliaries in Maguindanao. What we have are those CVOs which carry illegal firearms.

Meanwhile the office of the President released a diary of the four days of the crisis that looks in depth at the moves of Sec. Jesus Dureza, President Arroyo’s adviser on Mindanao issues.

Sec. Dureza is the man who was assigned by Arroyo as part of his portfolio to see that those accused in the crisis early hours were in the words of the secretary below ‘secured’ for proper investigation and filing of charges in court was done.

Also to insure that province wide vendetta did not break out between the clans in Maguindanao and also the rule of law was imposed. Dureza released his ‘diary’ of the ‘Four Critical days in a document to try give his side of what government did in the hours after the crisis broke out.

MAGUINDANAO MASSACRE: THE FOUR CRITICAL DAYS (A recollection of those four critical days ) by Secretary Jesus G. Dureza

DAY ONE ‐‐Nov 23 (Monday) – I was monitoring closely reports about a missing convoy in Maguindanao with media friends. Later in the day, reports of mass murder of the Mangudadatus were confirmed. Allegedly by Datu Unsay Ampatuan Jr. et al. My instincts told me this could very well be a very explosive situation. . When media called, I said I would recommend proclaiming a state of emergency. At 8 p.m. SND Bert Gonzales and I met. He told me the President had directed that I act as “crisis manager”.

DAY TWO – Nov 24 (Tuesday) Bert and I took the earliest flight to Gen Santos City. At the 601st brigade in Tacurong, Sultan Kudarat, briefings were held. Initial photos of the carnage were flashed on the screen. Gruesome! Next we met with the Mangudadatus, many of them my personal friends.

They were tense and angry. They wanted to retrieve the bodies immediately. They demanded justice, immediately.

The Ampatuans did it, they said. After Bert and I expressed government’s resolve to do everything possible, Toto Mangudadatu said they will cooperate. No retaliatory action but government must give justice.

12 NOON – A teleconferencing call connected Bert and me to the Palace where the President was presiding over a hastily called security meeting. We were getting specific instructions from her.

So did Bert, PNP Chief Jess Versoza and AFP Vice CS Maclang who arrived with us. Her voice had that sense of urgency.

Inputs from the other cabinet members were also relayed. 1:00 PM – The crisis management committee was activated.

Assisting me were Eastmincom Gen Ferrer and PNP 12 Director Serapio. 2:00 PM – Bert left to fly back to Manila. Col Geslani, brigade commander assisted in setting up the command center. It was at this time that I operationalized an action plan I quietly formulated in my mind. It was a simple plan drawing lessons from past experiences.

3:00PM – Having talked with the Mangudadatus, I decided to go see the Ampatuans in Shariff Aguak. I felt confident. Both families were my friends. And I had direct access to them. With my staff and without military escorts, except for one military officer, Col Macario as guide, I motored to the Ampatuan residence.

3:45PM ‐‐I entered the Ampatuan fenced premises and the patriarch Gov. Andal Ampatuan, Sr was there waiting for me. With him seated in a “ bahay kubo” on the sprawling grounds were several ARMM and Maguindanao officials and relatives. Armed followers were everywhere. After informing Gov. Andal that my purpose in coming was because of the incident and that his son, Mayor Datu Unsay Ampatuan, Jr. was implicated , I told “Bapa” Andal that it would be best that the Ampatuans also “cooperate”.

I said that Datu Unsay should submit to an investigation. He immediately said: “ OK. Kausapin mo sya. Ipatawag ko si Datu Unsay. Basta kayo secretary walang problema”. I told him I wanted to see Datu Unsay as I got reports that he was missing or had escaped. Bapa said: “Hindi yan totoo. Darating si Datu Unsay. Magpakita sya sayo secretary”.

Bapa Andal as usual, was a man of few words. We then went inside the house to wait for the son’s arrival. In the meantime, ARMM Gov Zaldy Ampatuan and Cong. Digs Dilangalen arrived from the airport. Usec Zam Ampatuan, Atty Cynthia Guiani Sayadi, among others were there too.

I felt a bit tense and uncomfortable. I did not want to start talking about the incident until Unsay would arrive. We were chatting for about an hour trying to divert the issue and loosen up.

A lively conversation centered on how many children some of their relatives had. One relative had 70 children. Of course from several mothers. Etc.

4:30PM – We waited. I noticed that Atty. Cynthia was using her cellphone and taking pictures while we were chatting. Unsay arrived and got seated on my left. We continued a bit about our light banter until Unsay settled down. (GMA7 later that same evening showed some pictures on TV. My wife Beth texted me and called my attention immediately when she saw it: “Bakit ka smile kasama mga Ampatuan. Not proper.” I agreed. But I was puzzled where the pictures came from and who sent them.

There were no media people around. I surmised Cynthia did it.)

5:00PM. – I was becoming worried that darkness would overtake my return trip to Sultan Kudarat. Many armed and uniformed men on the highway. One could not tell what group or unit. So when Unsay got seated, I immediately told him that I came because of the serious incident and that initial reports mentioned his name as involved. I told him my purpose in coming was only to be assured that he would cooperate and submit himself to any investigation.

He looked at the direction of Gov Andal who spoke first: “ Gaya ng sinabi ko sayo kanina, magcooperate kami, secretary”. Then Unsay himself echoed saying: “Mag cooperate po kami secretary”. I then stood up and said I would contact them again soon. We arrived in Marbel already dark and stayed there for the night.

DAY THREE , Nov 25, (‐ Wednesday) – 830AM, I visited a funeral parlor in Marbel. Some bodies not identified yet.

I then directed DSWD 12 to attend to the immediate needs of the families, and that DOH 12 and OCD 12 were to assist. I motored to Tacurong at 601st brigade and met the NBI team that just arrived from Manila. I reconvened the crisis committee and mapped up moves on how to fast track work .

A team of PNP investigators were sent to the residence of Buluan Vice Mayor Toto Mangudadatu to get statements but they were told that affidavits of their witnesses would be submitted instead perhaps the following day.

I was already aware that the outrage over the killings mounted. And government was being criticized for slow action.

12 NOON –Over lunch at the brigade, I consulted with the crisis committee on my plan: it was time to contact the Ampatuans and call in Datu Unsay to voluntarily surrender.

As they committed to me yesterday. I was also quietly informed that an operational plan was underway to forcibly take custody of him.

2:00PM – On my way to Marbel to dialogue with all the families of the victims, I made several calls. First with ARMM Gov. Zaldy Ampatuan. I told him it was time to bring in Datu Unsay. He told me he would consult the father, Gov. Andal. I said I had only until 5 pm that day to work on this plan. After 5pm, the scenario would no longer be the same, I told him.

4:00PM – While meeting the families of victims in downtown Marbel, I got a call from the father, Gov Andal telling me that he would turnover to me Datu Unsay but requested that the deadline be moved from 5pm today to 10 AM, the following day.

I immediately told him I could not guarantee things if the deadline was moved. He said the Ampatuan clan would meet that evening and discuss things and bid goodbye to Datu Unsay.

I told him I would get back to him by phone. I made calls and informed some of my colleagues (with whom I had been consulting from the beginning) of the request. There were objections.

Understandable reservations: what if the extension was a ruse to escape that evening? What were the guarantees that he would voluntarily surrender during the new deadline? People were becoming outraged not only on the crime but on the perceived slowness of government, so why waste more time? The forces were ready to strike, so why delay?

But I also reasoned back: How sure are we that we would get Datu Unsay in the operations? (From yesterday’s visit to the Ampatuans, I was certain that he was not there in the immediate vicinity but came from somewhere far.)

An assault would surely cost lives knowing the armaments, the culture and the situation.

People were crying for swift action but I would not agree to precipitate action. I also said I believed Gov Andal was sincere when he told me he would bring out his son when needed.

To wrap up my point, I said: I would take full responsibility for whatever outcome. My new timeline was adopted. I moved the deadline to 10:OO AM the following day.

That night, we reviewed the “pickup” scenario several times and mapped out contingencies just in case things would not go as planned. In the meantime, government troops moved according to operational plans. That evening,

I got a call from Atty. Cynthia getting an assurance from me that nothing would be launched that evening until the 10 AM pickup time the following day. I told her if there were troop movements, these were in support of the 10 AM “pickup”. Later in the night, another complication suddenly arose. Gen Serapio and Col Geslani informed me that they got information that Toto Mangudadatu would motor with his followers to file his certificate of candidacy the following morning in Shariff Aguak. I immediately called Gov. Teng Mangudadatu.

I told him that there was something afoot the following morning and that without disclosing what it was all about, I requested if he could convince Toto to move his filing to another day. A few minutes later, Gov Teng called and said the clan agreed.

D‐DAY, Nov.26 (Thursday) 6:00AM–Early morning, government forces took over and occupied the ARMM facilities and other buildings and premises in Maguindanao province.

Armed elements loyal to the Ampatuans were taken by surprise and gave up their firearms without resistance. I was nervous a bit but confident. The “what if” scenarios kept popping up in my mind. I motored to the 601st brigade for the final briefings. The choppers would pick me up from there. Gen Ferrer and I watched as more newly arrived troops were jumping off towards designated areas.

9:00AM – I was informed that something went wrong with the Huey helicopters coming from Cotabato. The Davao choppers were instead dispatched but would not be able to arrive by 10AM. 9:55AM – I got a call from Col Geslani whom we tasked to liaison with the Ampatuans that they were requesting for a little time as they were waiting for their lawyer who was still on the road to arrive.

That was a break I needed. The 2 choppers arrived. We discussed with the pilot and crew contingencies and procedures.

10:45AM, we were ready to jump off upon cue from Col Geslani. It would be a short 35 minute hop from the brigade to Shariff Aguak.

My staff Cecil said she’s getting nervous but insisted on joining. My assistant, Yo was busy texting. But wait, another problem suddenly cropped up. As we were boarding, one the 2 PNP officers tasked to escort the suspect said they could not use the handcuff on Ampatuan as the KEY WAS MISSING! What about the other handcuff with your buddy, I asked. “Ganon din po sir”, he replied. “Sh_t!” I almost fell from my seat!.(”Sarap sapakin!”) But there was no more time. We then agreed that he would be strapped with the seat belt and the policemen would firmly clasp the buckles to prevent any unexpected situation while airborne. (When I was asked later by reporters why Ampatuan was not handcuffed, I had a ready curt answer with a straight face: “He is adequately restrained!”. Sec Agnes promptly responded with the same line when she was asked upon landing in Manila. )

11:20AM Two Hueys landed on the Maguindanao province capitol grounds. The Huey engines were not shut off as agreed in case a sudden exit maneuver was necessary. I waited for 20 minutes on the ground. I was getting worried. Finally, I saw my staff Ollie with his thumbs up sign. Col Geslani signalled, they were on their way. My “what if” scare disappeared. The capitol gates opened.

The Ampatuan family arrived on board vehicles from another location nearby. Gov Zaldy clasping my hand said: “Ipaubaya ni amah si Datu Unsay sayo” and turned over Datu Unsay to me. We boarded the aircraft with Atty. Cynthia , insisting she had to ride with him.

11:40AM, Helis took off enroute Gen Santos City where Sec. Agnes and her crew were waiting for an inquest proceeding. But again something happened. About a few minutes airborne and while still climbing and gaining altitude, I first noticed some flapping sound outside. I thought, maybe some loose parts of the chopper.

The noise kept coming, intermittent. I looked down and maybe I saw flashes but I was not sure. Suddenly the Huey banked sharply to the right and simultaneously, several short bursts from our two Huey gunners at the back. The bursts startled all of us.

The evasive maneuver by the pilot also jarred us. All of us kept our heads low as the Huey steeply climbed. My staff Jerry and Col Mac who were seated beside the open Huey doors ducked.

The soldier at the back shouted, “ground fire, sir”. We still climbed. The flapping sound from outside could not be heard anymore. The gunners later told me ground fire sounded like flapping from the air. The evasive action and the machinegun bursts were SOP. At 2,000 feet altitude, we cruised. That’s when I saw on the Huey floor an empty shell from the bursts of the M‐60 machinegun on board.

I picked up the empty shell, then pocketed it for good luck. At the Gensan airport, I called the Boss: “Mission accomplished, Mrs. President.” * * *

(Note: Dureza had successfully handled past crises situations notably the “detention” by MNLF Saber Malik of Marine Gen. Benjamin Dolorfino and OPAPP Usec Ramon Santos in Sulu in 2007; the handover of Misuari from Malaysian authorities to face rebellion charges in 2002; the surrender of convicted priestkiller escapee Manero in 2001; the release of Gen. Obillo and Capt. Montealto by NPA Commander Parago with the Capalla humanitarian team in 1999; the Cebu Pacific plane crash in Misamis Oriental in 1998; the Mindanao El Nino crisis in 1998; the Davao Penal Colony hostage situation in 1998.)