[JURIST] A Quezon City court on Monday dismissed rebellion charges against 24 people, including Andal Ampatuan Sr., the leader of a Muslim clan in the Philippines' semi-autonomous southern province of Maguindanao, and four of his family members. The Philippines Department of Justice [official website] had implicated Ampatuan and several of his followers in the November slayings [press release] of 57 campaign workers, journalists, and supporters of family political rival Esmael Mangudadatu. Prosecutors claimed that in response to a police crackdown on the family following the massacre, Ampatuan, his three sons, his brother, and other members of his clan plotted to stage an armed rebellion against the Philippine government. Regional Trial Court judge Vivencio Baclig cleared the rebellion charges [Reuters report] against the Ampatuans and 19 others due to a lack of evidence. Acting Philippine Justice Secretary Alberto Agra said that the ruling would not effect the rebellion prosecution [JURIST report] of more than 600 members of the Ampatuan clan. The Ampatuans remain in custody awaiting trial on 57 counts of murder [Philippine Star report].
The Ampatuans and several of their followers are alleged to have intercepted Mangudadatu's convoy en route to declare his candidacy for governor at a regional election office, ultimately forcing his convoy to a remote hilltop where the Ampatuans' group killed and buried them. Following the killings, Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo [official website] imposed martial law [JURIST report] and suspended habeas corpus in Maguindanao. She later lifted the conditions, following international pressure and domestic legal challenges [JURIST reports].