12/15/2009, 00.00
PHILIPPINES
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With martial law lifted, victims of the Maguindanao massacre deserve justice, Filipino Church says

by Santosh Digal
Protest by the local population and accusations of unconstitutionality force President Arroyo to lift martial law imposed on 5 December. Some 529 people are arrested during the seven days in which it was in place. Several cases of multiple murders left unsolved by local police are uncovered. Filipino bishops urge the government to bring to justice those responsible for the Maguindanao massacre.
Manila (AsiaNews) – Filipino bishops have welcomed with a sigh of relief the end of martial law in Maguindanao, which President Arroyo announced on Saturday. However, they call on the government to take ‘urgent security measures” to capture those responsible for the massacre of 57 people on 23 November. Mgr Angel Lagdameo, archbishop of Jaro and former president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, said that the focus should now shift to bringing justice to the victims and their families.

Martial was imposed on the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) on 5 December, but the decision was met with opposition. The local population rejected the decision, and eventually protests by political and Church authorities succeeded in getting the law lifted.

During the seven days in which it was in place, 523 people were arrested. Operations by the military and national police shed light on three cases of multiple murders that took place in the past. Some 247 cold cases were reopened and referred to the department of Justice. They had originally been left unsolved because of collusion between local police and clans who wield power over the region.

A state of emergency remains in place however in the provinces of Maguindanao, Cotabato and Sultan Kudarat. More than 4,000 soldiers are patrolling the area controlled by former ARMM Governor Andal Ampatuan Sr who is considered the instigator of the massacre of supporters of Ishmael “Toto” Mangudadatu, his rival in next year’s gubernatorial race.

Ampatuan is also accused of using public funds for personal use, like paying for his personal army, building luxury villas and buying posh cars.

ARMM gets 98 per cent of its budget from the central government or foreign aid sources.

According to Fr Albert Alejo, rector of Ateneo de Zambuanga Catholic University, the government should also audit government projects funded by the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank.

“The Ampatuans do not have plantations. They do not own factories. They are not based in Davao but they have a big mansion there,” Father Alejo said. For this reason, the “government should stop all foreign-funded development projects because they only serve as magnets for conflict,” Alejo added.

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