Philippines President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has imposed martial law in the Maguindanao province, prompting her critics to raise an alarm. Having experienced the authoritarian rule of Ferdinand Marcos, Filipinos have long come to regard martial law as an instrument of arbitrary governance.

Presidential Secretary Eduardo Ermita said in Manila on Saturday that Ms. Arroyo wanted to ward off lawlessness amid a probe into a recent massacre in the Maguindanao province. Of concern was an armed resistance to the arrest of suspected masterminds behind the murder of 57 persons, including journalists, on November 23, said Mr. Ermita.

The martial law decree was immediately invoked to detain Maguindanao Governor Andal Ampatuan Sr. as the principal suspect in the case which already had drawn international attention. The governor’s son, Andal Ampatuan Jr., surrendered shortly after the gruesome execution of the relatives of his political rival and nearly 30 journalists, who were all travelling in a convoy ahead of the filing of nomination papers for a poll.

Also arrested under the new martial law was the provincial governor’s other son, Zaldy Ampatuan, also the Governor of the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao.

Philippines Armed Forces chief Victor Ibrado said martial law was recommended because of a “very imminent” threat of “hostile action” against the Filipino state by those now arrested. Ms. Arroyo’s critics say that her brand of politics had encouraged such “war lords” in the Muslim-dominant restive areas of the Christian-majority country.

This and other criticism prompted Justice Secretary Agnes Devenadera to say that the latest martial law, with constitutional safeguards, was different from the nationwide martial law of the Marcos period.

More In: International | News