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Early lifting of martial law proves there's no conspiracy - DILG chief

With the lifting of martial law in Maguindanao, suspicions that government officials are conspiring to place the entire country under military rule should finally be laid to rest, according to Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno. "There is no conspiracy. Everyone in the Cabinet is circumspect and careful. We think very hard," Puno said during the press conference in Malacañang Saturday afternoon when Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita announced that martial law would be lifted at 9 p.m. Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago on Friday said she believed that even without President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's knowledge, Puno and acting Defense Secretary Norberto Gonzales could already be "preparing the ground for a broader martial law to cover the entire country, seize power, and preempt the national elections." "The early lifting is an indication of the bias of members of the administration to go back to the normal processes and provisions under the Constitution," Puno said. "We will waste no time in going back to the normal constitutional processes that are available," he added. Martial law was declared in Maguindanao last December 4 to expedite the pursuit of suspects in the November 23 massacre, as well as to quell an alleged massing of supporters of the Ampatuans who were linked to the carnage of 57 people, including 30 journalists. Conspiracy theories about a plan to expand martial law were further fueled by separate abduction incidents in Mindanao, including that of a school official in Basilan. In Agusan del Sur, armed men held some 75 people last Thursday. As of this posting, around 30 hostages had been safely released. Puno said all these incidents were in no way connected to each other, allaying fears that these were staged to justify military rule covering the entire Philippines. "These two are not connected. This [The Agusan hostage-taking] is a criminal act and do not constitute rebellion," Puno said. - MARK DALAN MERUEÑAS, GMANews.TV