Philippine police have said militiamen loyal to a powerful clan attacked security forces after martial law was imposed in their province following a brutal massacre. Supporters of the Ampatuan clan whose leaders are key suspects in the November mass murders fired on police yesterday, two days after president Gloria Arroyo declared martial law on Maguindanao province, authorities said. Police commandos were on routine patrol searching for illegal weapons when they were attacked, triggering a 10-minute clash.
"Suddenly they were fired upon and there was an exchange of gunfire. They were not able to move so they called in reinforcements," national police chief director general Jesus Verzosa said. The commander of military forces in Maguindanao, Lt Gen Raymundo Ferrer, said today that troops were hunting down 3,000 Ampatuan followers who had escaped to the hills before martial law was imposed. "The number would not be less than 3,000," Lt Gen Ferrer told DZBB radio in Manila. "These [militiamen] are in hiding with their weapons. They have said they will fight and there are many of them."
The interior secretary Ronaldo Puno said the militiamen were formerly under government control and were effectively controlled by he Ampatuans, who had once helped Arroyo against Muslim separatist insurgents in the area. "They have severed themselves from the chain of command and lawful authorities that have been supervising them," Mr Puno said. Members of the Ampatuan family, which has ruled the province for a decade, are accused of orchestrating the November 23 massacre of 57 people, including members of a rival family and 30 journalists.