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Death Toll from Philippine Political Massacre Rises to Forty-Six

Maguindanao Declared Under State of Emergency

INQUIRER.net, News Report, TJ Burgonio, Philippine Daily Inquirer [Mindanao] Posted: Nov 24, 2009

MANILA, Phils., -- As bodies from the worst political massacre in the nations history were being uncovered from freshly dug mass graves, Phil. President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo Tuesday declared a state of emergency in the provinces of Maguindanao and Sultan Kudarat and in Cotabato City.

Police said at least 46 bodies, 21 of them women, had so far been retrieved, a day after armed followers of Maguindanao Gov. Andal Ampatuan Sr. seized rivals belonging to the family of Buluan Vice Mayor Esmael Mangudadatu who were on their way to file documents officially entering him in the gubernatorial race
in Maguindanao in the May elections.

The death toll, police announced Tuesday, included 24 retrieved on Monday in corn and coconut farms in a mountainous area at the boundary of Ampatuan and Shariff Aguak towns, an hours drive from the Mangudadatu bailiwick of Buluan, from where the victims had set out.

A dozen others were reported to be missing from the group of around 60.

Searchers said the faces of some of the victims found were smashed by gunfire and other bodies bore hack wounds, according to police.

Most of the victims were women and included journalists dispatched to file the nominations in the election commission office at Shariff Aguak. The Mangudadatu family felt that being women, and with media covering them, they would not be touched by their longtime rivals.

There is an urgent need to prevent and suppress the occurrence of several other incidents of lawless violence, Ms Arroyo said in Proclamation Order No. 1946 she issued after a Cabinet meeting, according to Press Secretary Cerge Remonde.

The President directed the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police to undertake such measures as may be allowed by the Constitution in carrying out her orders.

The state of emergency will remain until lifted or withdrawn by the President, Remonde said.

No Effort Will Be Spared

Before convening the Cabinet, Ms Arroyo told acting AFP chief of staff Lt. Gen. Rodrigo Maclang to proceed to Maguindanao to personally oversee military action against the perpetrators of these dastardly acts.

No effort will be spared to bring justice to the victims and hold the perpetrators accountable to the full limit of the law, she said.

Ms Arroyo has also ordered an investigation of the massacre by the police, military and the National Bureau of Investigation, Remonde said.

To ensure transparency and impartiality, the Commission on Human Rights has been asked to join the inquiry, he said.

The orders ... are very clear and succinct: To ensure that there is an impartial investigation into this dastardly act no matter who gets hurt especially considering this is something that is unconscionable. This violence cant be tolerated, Remonde said. It cant be said, as its already being insinuated, that some people here are untouchable.

Rivals Belong to Ruling Party

Contrary to reports, Remonde clarified that Mangudadatu and Ampatuan are members of the ruling Lakas-Kampi-CMD coalition.

There has been a lot of reports already in the media seemingly accusing the administration of being partial to one side of the issue, he said. It is a misimpression to believe that only one party is an ally of the administration, Remonde said.

Officials were still trying to determine the exact number of people intercepted by about 100 gunmen and taken to a remote mountainous area, said Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno.

Were hopeful that some people escaped, and were hoping to find them alive, he said.

A Philippine Daily Inquirer reporter who was with the Mangudadatu delegation when it left Buluan said the group comprised 16 women, five drivers and 37 journalists.

Soldiers and police later found 24 bodies, including those of Mangudadatus wife, Genalyn, and his two sisters, sprawled on the ground or shot in their vehicles about five kilometers from where they were seized, said Chief Supt. Leonardo Espina, PNP spokesperson, said.

The bodies retrieved Tuesday by troops using shovels and bare hands were from mass graves on a grassy hillside in the remote farming village of Saniag, said Chief Supt. Josefino Cataluna, the regional PNP commander.

They were piled on top of each other. It looked as if they were buried hurriedly, Cataluna told reporters from the scene of the massacre. We expect more bodies from other areas.

Journalists on the scene said a backhoe, apparently used to dig the mass graves, was emblazoned with the name of Governor Ampatuan, whose bodyguards had been blamed by the military as being behind the massacre.

A Reuters photographer saw many of the bodies with bullet and machete wounds. Some of the dead men had their hands tied behind their backs and one of the women was pregnant.

Four Eyewitnesses

Mangudadatu on Tuesday said that four witnesses had told him the caravan was stopped by gunmen loyal to Andal Ampatuan Jr., a town mayor belonging to a powerful clan and his familys fierce political rival. He refused to name the witnesses or offer other details.

It was really planned because they had already dug a huge hole (for the bodies), Mangudadatu said.

Lt. Col. Romeo Brawner Jr., AFP spokesperson, said that troops were looking for more bodies in areas that appeared to have been recently dug up.

Police director Sacked

Chief Insp. Zukarno Dicay, the assistant provincial police director, has been relieved in connection with the massacre. He is under investigation and is under restriction, Espina said.

He was seen at the scene of the crime together with some CAFGUs, Espina said, referring to members of the Citizens Armed Forces Geographical Unit militia who are trained by the government to fight local insurgencies.

The suspects are bodyguards of Ampatuan, local police aides and certain lawless elements, Brawner said.

The Ampatuans were unreachable for comment.

The region, among the nations poorest and awash with weapons, has been intermittently ruled by the Ampatuan family since 2001.

Palace Meeting

Ms Arroyos political adviser Gabriel Claudio said he was meeting with Zaldy Ampatuan, governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, when the killings occurred on Monday to try to mediate in the long-running rivalry between the Ampatuans and the Mangudadatus.

I really thought that at the time that the affinity, the relations between the two families, will be affirmed, he said.

He said the most important thing was to ensure there was no more violence.

There has to be swift and decisive justice, Claudio said.

Separate NBI probe

Acting Justice Secretary Agnes Devanadera has ordered the NBI to conduct its own investigation into the massacre of politicians relatives and journalists in Maguindanao.

Devanadera also formed a group of prosecutors that would handle with dispatch cases arising from the investigation.

The concurrent solicitor general also ordered prosecutors in the area to coordinate with the families of victims for claims under the compensation law and with law enforcement agencies for the prosecution of those involved.

In Davao City, Mayor Rodrigo Duterte said one of the clans involved had sought the protection of Davao authorities for their children studying in the city. He declined to give details.

Both the Ampatuans and Mangudadatus have houses in Davao City. Many of their children are also studying in the citys universities. With reports from

With reports from Norman Bordadora and Tina G. Santos in Manila, Dennis Jay Santos, Charlie C. Sease, Jeffrey M. Tupas, Julie S. Alipala, Inquirer Mindanao; Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters

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