Philippine clan leader held in attack
GENERAL SANTOS, Philippines - Troops took the patriarch of a powerful clan, a former governor, into custody today after the president put his southern province under martial law to hunt down suspects in the country’s worst political violence.
The head of the clan, Andal Ampatuan Sr. and at least six other family members who have ruled impoverished Maguindanao Province unopposed for years are the main suspects in the Nov. 23 attack on a political rival’s convoy in which 57 people, including 30 journalists, were killed.
Ampatuan’s son, Andal Jr., turned himself in last week and was charged with multiple counts of murder.
President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo today put Maguindanao under martial law, allowing troops to make arrests without court warrants and restore order, her top Cabinet member, Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita, told reporters.
Soldiers have already seized stockpiles of weapons and ammunition in raids on homes belonging to the Ampatuans.
General Victor Ibrado, the armed forces chief, said Ampatuan Sr., a three-term provincial governor, and his son Zaldy, governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, which includes Maguindanao, were taken into military custody early today.
TV reports said the patriarch was later taken to a hospital in southern Davao city.
The family has denied any involvement in the killings.
For several days, hundreds of security forces have surrounded the sprawling Ampatuan compounds in the provincial capital of Shariff Aguak to prevent the clan from escaping.
They dug out an entire arsenal, including mortar shells, light machine guns, assault rifles, and bazookas buried near the patriarch’s mansion, said Lieutenant Colonel Romeo Brawner, armed forces spokesman.
Arroyo ordered an investigation of police and soldiers who may have supplied the weapons and ammunition, said Jesus Verzosa, national police chief.
Arroyo also ordered the creation of a commission to oversee the dismantling of clan-dominated private armies, Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno said.