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Police in the Philippines on Wednesday named 161 suspects in the massacre of 57 people in Maguindanao Province last month as the case against the massacre leaders intensifies. The list includes government militiamen as well as members of the powerful Ampatuan clan, now facing charges of murder and rebellion. Meanwhile, the Philippine Congress convened on Wednesday to discuss last week's imposition of martial law in Maguindanao.
Witnesses also claimed that clan leader and mayor of Datu Unsay Andal Ampatuan Jr. led the attack and himself shot some of the victims of the massacre, reports the Philippine online daily Inquirer.Net. The Inquirer says that according to Rainer Ebus, one of the police officers involved in the killings, "it was Ampatuan Jr. who gave the order to kill everyone and shot at the victims several times to make sure they are all dead."
The Inquirer adds that the Maguindanao massacre was planned as early as Nov. 20, when armed militiamen loyal to the Ampatuan clan established checkpoints along national highways.
Ampatuan's father and other relatives have also been arrested on separate charges of rebellion, according to the AP.
ABC News reports that the Ampatuan clan has also been implicated in the murder of 200 other people in separate incidents. The Philippines Commission for Human Rights says its investigations have revealed more murders allegedly carried out by the Ampatuans, but these accusations are not yet confirmed.
On Saturday, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo declared martial law in Maguindanao to facilitate arrests of clan members without court warrants and track down about 2,400 militiamen loyal to the Ampatuans. According to Arab News, dozens of weapons and half-a-million ammunition rounds have since been seized from the clan's properties. And on Tuesday, Philippine military choppers dropped thousands of leaflets across Maguindanao Province urging armed followers of the Ampatuans to surrender peacefully.
Even as the Philippine security forces take advantage of the imposition of martial law in Maguindanao Province to track down suspects in the massacre, the nation's Congress has convened to debate Proclamation 1959, by which martial law is declared. According to the Inquirer, the deliberations are expected to be complete within four days. The session is being described as "historic" because this is the first time that martial law has been declared in the Philippines since the fall of Ferdinand Marcos in 1986.
According to the Philippine Star, the country's Supreme Court has deferred petitions seeking to stop the enforcement of martial law.