AFP official: Keep Maguindanao martial law till polls

MANILA, Philippines -- A top military official recommended that the declaration of martial law in Maguindanao be extended to cover the May, 2010 elections.

Major General Gaudencio Pangilinan, vice chief of staff for operations, said the extension would be needed to allow government troops to hunt down more suspects in Maguindanao massacre and in the supposed rebellion by supporters of the Ampatuan clan.

At a press briefing in MalacaƱang, the official said it would be better if the military kept control over the province, where election results were deemed questionable both in 2004 and 2007.

“We will show them how to run peaceful and credible elections,” he told reporters. “We wish it could be extended for a little while—60 days, maybe longer, maybe (until) the elections—so we can ensure that the elections will be credible.”

At least 62 suspects have been rounded up since President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo placed Maguindanao under martial rule, according to Director Andres Caro of the Philippine National Police.

Mrs. Arroyo was expected to submit to Congress a written report on the Maguindanao situation Sunday night.

Press Secretary Cerge Remonde said Justice Secretary Agnes Devanadera and Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno were still working on the report as of Sunday afternoon to beat the 9 p.m. deadline required by law.

Remonde was optimistic that Mrs. Arroyo could justify before both chambers of Congress the need to impose martial law. The Senate and the House of Representatives are set to hold a joint session on Tuesday to decide on whether to lift or extend the declaration.

“We are confident that we have done what is right. We are also confident that Congress will do what is right,” he said in the same briefing. “The President did what she had to do.”

Pangilinan said military and operations were based on a validated “watch list” cleared both by the Department of Justice and Philippine National Police lawyers.

“This is not random. There is a process,” he said.

In a Palace briefing, Maj. Gen. Gaudencio Pangilinan, vice chief of staff for operations, said authorities were still looking to arrest some 4,000 armed supporters of the Ampatuans, who allegedly planned an attack.

Pangilinan cautioned against an early lifting of the martial law declaration in Maguindanao, warning that there were still “at least 4,000 armed (men) in the area that can create potential trouble.”

“They are really capable. We know their position,” he said. “They can conduct bombings, arson, and maybe in an isolated area, stop or hold up a bus or convoy—those things we try to prevent.”

Should martial law be lifted, he said “it would be more difficult for us to look for the firearms used during the massacre and maybe, to hunt down the other suspects.”

“But we will cope,” he said. “We’ll pour in more troops and we have to be more diligent. We will work for 23 hours a day, if necessary, only an hour’s rest.”

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