State of emergency in Maguindanao to be lifted after December

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/27 November) – The provincial government of Maguindanao has recommended the lifting of the  year-long state of emergency over Maguindanao but it was decided in a meeting last week that it be done after December instead, Maguindanao Governor Esmael “Toto”Mangudadatu  said.

Then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo issued Proclamation 1946 to “prevent and suppress the occurrence of similar other incidents of lawless violence” on November 24, 2009, a day after the Ampatuans, her political allies, were implicated in the massacre of 58 persons, 32 of them from the media, in Ampatuan, Maguindanao.

Mangudadatu told MindaNews in a telephone interview that a meeting was held in Manila on November 21 precisely to discuss the state of emergency (SOE). He said he wants it lifted “so we can invite investors” but Mindanao Development Authority (MinDA) chair Luwalhati Antonino suggested it be done after December, given the spate of kidnappings recently.

Mangudadatu said among those who were in the meeting were Antonino, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Quintos-Deles, Western Mindanao Command chief Lt. Gen. Raymundo Ferrer and Eastern Mindanao Command chief Maj. Gen. Arthur Tabaquero.

He said it was agreed that the military and police stationed in Maguindanao will remain in the area even if the SOE is lifted to go after the dispersed armed militia of Ampatuan and other threats to security.

The state of emergency covered Maguindanao and Sultan Kudarat provinces and the city of  Cotabato. Ten days later, on December 4, Arroyo issued Proclamation 1959 declaring a state of martial law and suspending the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus in Maguindanao “except for certain areas” within the government-Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF)  peace process.

When martial law was lifted on December 12, 2009, the area remained under a state of emergency.

A week before ending her nine-year reign as President, Arroyo through her Executive Secretary, Leandro Mendoza, said they would leave to President Benigno Simeon Aquino III the decision on whether to lift the SOE in the two provinces and Cotabato City.

Mendoza said the decision not to lift the SOE was in line with the recommendation of the Departments of Defense and the Department of Interior & Local Government.

“There  is still violence, threats to lives and property (in these areas). Let the next administration study the possibility of lifting the state of emergency in Maguindanao, Sultan Kudarat and Cotobato City,” Mendoza told reporters in Malacanang.

Lt. Gen. Ferrer, then chief of the Eastern Mindanao Command and administrator of martial law in Maguindanao in December 2009, told MindaNews in mid-June that he would rather that the newly-elected officials  convene the Provincial Peace and Order Council (PPOC) to discuss the situation and make their recommendations on the lifting of the SOE.

On September 1, at the weekly Tapatan sa ARMM in Cotabato City,  Police Sr. Supt. Allen  Fortes, deputy regional director for operations of the Police Regional Office of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), said “going normal na yung sitwasyon dito sa Maguindanao” (the situation in Maguindanao is going normal) even as it was still under a state of emergency.

Col Prudenco Asto, Chief of the 6th Infantry Division’s Public Affairs Office, told the same forum that the situation in Maguindanao, was “going back to normalcy” but “napakaganda nitong state of emergency” (the state of emergency is beautiful) because now you don’t see people carrying firearms.

He said lifting the state of emergency could mean a return to the old days when firearms were displayed publicly. “Parang wild, wild west na naman tayo,” he said.

Ali Macabalang, chief of the Bureau of Public Information of the ARMM explained in the same forum that at the Regional Law Enforcement Coordinating Committee meeting in late August, the lifting of the SOE was discussed following complaints by the business sector especially those who have transactions at the Polloc Port in Parang, Maguindanao about the negative psychological impact on an SOE over business.

But the Committee, he said, decided on recommending that the lifting of the state of emergency or limiting of its scope be done six months later or by February 2011.

MindaNews sources noted that if  the SOE is lifted, there could be an upsurge in kidnapping and bombings. “Under SOE, all gun licenses and permit to carry firearms are canceled so there are no more civilians going around with armed bodyguards. If SOE is lifted, expect (Governor Mangudadatu) and all the warlords to apply for license and permit to carry firearms and to go around with armed bodyguards,” a senior military official said Saturday. (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)