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Pleas for justice as Philippines mourns massacre victims

In Uncategorized on November 24, 2010 at 4:51 am

SHARIFF AGUAK, Philippines, Nov 23, 2010 (AFP) – Relatives of 57 people killed in the Philippines’ worst political massacre made emotional appeals for justice Tuesday as the nation marked the slaughter’s first anniversary.


Thousands of mourners gathered at a remote hill in the southern province of Maguindanao where the carnage took place to pay their respects and demand the powerful Muslim clan accused of orchestrating the massacre be held to account.

Supporters along with relatives of the 57 people killed in the November 23, 2009 massacre attend a memorial service at the massacre site in Ampatuan, Maguindanao province on the southern island of Mindanao on November 23, 2010. AFP

“I am praying by the will of God that we can get justice,” Tom Teuto, 50, who lost his sister and 13 other relatives in the massacre, told reporters at the site on the outskirts of the provincial capital of Shariff Aguak.


“I am calling on the president to intervene. It has been a year. It has been very painful.”


The Ampatuan clan, which had governed Maguindanao since 2001, allegedly orchestrated the murders of at least 57 people in a futile bid to stop a member of a rival Muslim clan from running for the provincial governorship.


Those killed were relatives and supporters of the rival, Esmael Mangudadatu, who were to have filed his election nomination papers, as well as at least 32 local journalists who had travelled in the convoy.


Their bodies were later found in shallow pits, and witnesses who have testified in an ongoing trial in Manila for Andal Ampatuan Jnr, the clan patriarch’s son and namesake, said he gunned down most of the victims.


President Benigno Aquino declared Tuesday a “day of remembrance” and ordered government employees to wear black to symbolise unity with the victims’ relatives.


“Today we again offer our condolences to the families of the victims and vow to do everything in our power to achieve a timely resolution of this case and ensure this does not happen again,” Aquino said in a statement.


At the massacre site, religious leaders led prayers during an emotional service in which white doves and balloons were released to remember the victims.


Radio and television stations across the country also silenced their broadcasts for 58 seconds at 7:00 am to remember those killed and urge authorities to speed up the prosecutions of those accused.


Although the death toll is officially 57, a 33rd journalist, Humberto Mumay, is believed to have been killed as well.


Mumay’s death would bring the toll to 58 but the Ampatuans are being prosecuted for only 57 murders because Mumay’s body has not been found and he is officially declared as missing.


Ampatuan Snr and Jnr, and four other clan leaders, have been charged and are behind bars.


But Ampatuan Jnr is the only clan leader whose trial has begun and there are fears the court proceedings in the Philippines’ notoriously over-burdened justice system could last for years.


Meanwhile, many members of the Ampatuans’ private army remain on the loose and allegedly can receive calls from their leaders to stage attacks in an effort to eliminate or intimidate witnesses.


“They remain very dangerous and can receive instructions any time (from the Ampatuan leaders) through mobile phones,” Mangudadatu, the rival politician and now provincial governor, told AFP.


Human rights groups have said at least one key prosecution witness has been killed.


The Ampatuans deny being involved in any killings.


The Ampatuans had ruled Maguindanao with the support of then president Gloria Arroyo, who supplied the family’s private militia of up to 5,000 men so they could be used as a proxy force against Muslim separatist rebels.


However, rights watchdogs say Aquino, who took office on June 30 this year, must also address the bigger picture of abolishing all private armies run by politicians across the country.


The government still funds and arms some of these militias to supplement the under-resourced military, and critics say Aquino has either been unwilling or unable to disband the militias.


“The fact that private armies continue to operate a year after the Maguindanao massacre is an affront to the victims and an invitation to further disasters,” said Amnesty International’s Asia director, Sam Zafiri.

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Source: SGGP

Arroyo under fire over Philippine massacre case

In Uncategorized on April 21, 2010 at 12:13 pm

Outraged relatives of the 57 people killed in the Philippines’ worst political massacre said Wednesday they feared the government was protecting a powerful Muslim clan accused of the murders.

Protesters display their placards as they shout slogans during a rally at the Department of Justice Tuesday, April 20, 2010 in Manila, Philippines.

The relatives and their lawyers hit out at President Gloria Arroyo’s team after it dropped murder charges against two clan members and allowed the main suspect to protest his innocence in a rare jailhouse press conference.


“We went back into our depression and all the families were enraged,” Myrna Reblando, widow of one of the victims, said when asked about the decision to drop the charges against Zaldy and Akmad Ampatuan.


Justice Secretary Alberto Agra said on the weekend he had decided to drop the charges against the pair — barely two months after charging them — but Reblando and others said they were convinced the decision came from higher up.


“Something like this couldn’t happen without her (Arroyo) knowing about it,” Reblando told reporters outside a Manila court that was hearing initial proceedings against 15 policemen also charged over the slaughter.


The Ampatuans are a powerful clan that ruled the southern province of Maguindanao for a decade thanks in part to a close alliance with Arroyo and her ruling coalition, which allowed them to run their own private army.


However she was forced to publicly end the alliance after top clan members were accused of orchestrating the massacre of 57 people on November 23 last year in Maguindanao to allegedly eliminate the challenge of a political rival.


Andal Ampatuan Jnr, then a local mayor, is alleged to have led 100 gunmen in abducting a convoy of the rivals’ relatives, plus accompanying journalists and lawyers.


His father, then the governor of Maguindanao and a member of Arroyo’s coalition party, is among 194 other people also charged with murder.


Lawyer Harry Roque, representing some of the victims’ families, told reporters Wednesday he had applied for court proceedings to be postponed until July, when Arroyo will have stepped down a new justice secretary appointed.


“Does this mean we don’t believe we can get justice under Arroyo? The answer is yes,” Roque said.


Roque and government prosecutors also questioned why Ampatuan Jnr was allowed to hold a press conference on Tuesday in a Manila prison where he was being detained.


“I’m surprised, why in a high-security facility, one of the accused was able to conduct a full-blown press conference,” Roque said.


Government prosecutor Richard Fadullon said he had also filed an application to the court asking that the jail warden be made to explain why the press conference was allowed.


Arroyo’s spokesman, Gary Olivar, insisted Wednesday that the president was not giving the Ampatuans any favours.


“It should be clear to everyone of good faith that the president shares the desire of the victims for quick and comprehensive justice in this matter,” Olivar told AFP.


He also denied that Arroyo was involved in the decision to allow Ampatuan Jnr to hold a press conference.


“Jailhouse interviews with suspects… I don’t think that rises to the level of president,” he said.

Source: SGGP

Gunmen in army uniforms massacre 25 people in Iraqi village

In Uncategorized on April 3, 2010 at 9:07 am

BAGHDAD, April 3, 2010 (AFP) – Gunmen in army uniforms swooped on a village south of Baghdad, stormed three houses and massacred 25 people from families linked to an anti-Qaeda militia before dawn Saturday, Iraqi officials said.


Among the dead were 20 men and five women, an interior ministry official said, while a security spokesman blamed Al-Qaeda said that 17 people had been arrested in connection with the murders.


The brutal killings come as Iraq’s political parties negotiate to form a government, nearly a month after parliamentary elections.


Security officials have warned that a protracted period of coalition building could give insurgents an opportunity to further destabilise Iraq.


“Men wearing uniforms and driving vehicles similar to those used by the army stormed three houses in the village of Sufia, in the region of Hour Rajab, and killed 25 people, including five women,” said the interior ministry official, speaking on condition of anonymity.


The official said witnesses had told security forces the killers entered the village just before midnight Friday, and carried out the murders about two hours later.


They tied up their victims before killing them in a rampage of violence, the worst against anti-Qaeda fighters since November 16 when 13 members of a tribe opposed to the jihadists were murdered west of Baghdad.


A defence ministry official confirmed the details of the attack and the toll.


“Our information is that the killers were from Al-Qaeda,” said Major General Qassim Atta, spokesman for the Iraqi security force’s Baghdad operations, who put the death toll at 24 — 19 men and five women.


Atta said that 17 people had been arrested in connection with the killings, and that seven other civilians who had been discovered handcuffed in the village were freed.


He noted that the latter group were likely targets as well.


According to the defence ministry official, the families were part of the Sahwa (Awakening) movement, known as the “Sons of Iraq” by the US army, which joined American and Iraqi forces in 2006 and 2007 to fight against Al-Qaeda and its supporters, leading to a dramatic fall in violence across the country.


Control of the Sahwa passed to Iraqi authorities in October 2008 and since January 2009, their wages — said to have been cut from 300 dollars under US leadership to 100 dollars — have been paid, often late, by the government.


The Sahwa are, however, regular targets of Al-Qaeda, which remains active in the country.


Hour Rajab is a mainly agricultural region on Baghdad’s outskirts, mostly populated by the Jubur and the Janabat tribes.


Though the frequency of attacks has dropped significantly across Iraq since its peak in 2006 and 2007, figures released on Thursday showed the number of Iraqis killed in violence last month was the highest this year.


Altogether 367 people died as a result of attacks in March, the fourth consecutive month in which the overall number of people killed was higher than the same month a year previously.


Saturday’s violence comes as Iraq’s two biggest political blocs — the Iraqiya list of ex-premier Iyad Allawi and the State of Law Alliance of sitting prime minister Nuri al-Maliki — battle to form coalition governments, more than a week after results from the March 7 polls were released.


Both American and Iraqi security officials have warned that a lengthy period of government formation could give insurgent groups and Al-Qaeda an opening to carry out attacks.

d
Source: SGGP

Gunmen in army uniforms massacre 25 people in Iraqi village

In Uncategorized on April 3, 2010 at 9:07 am

BAGHDAD, April 3, 2010 (AFP) – Gunmen in army uniforms swooped on a village south of Baghdad, stormed three houses and massacred 25 people from families linked to an anti-Qaeda militia before dawn Saturday, Iraqi officials said.


Among the dead were 20 men and five women, an interior ministry official said, while a security spokesman blamed Al-Qaeda said that 17 people had been arrested in connection with the murders.


The brutal killings come as Iraq’s political parties negotiate to form a government, nearly a month after parliamentary elections.


Security officials have warned that a protracted period of coalition building could give insurgents an opportunity to further destabilise Iraq.


“Men wearing uniforms and driving vehicles similar to those used by the army stormed three houses in the village of Sufia, in the region of Hour Rajab, and killed 25 people, including five women,” said the interior ministry official, speaking on condition of anonymity.


The official said witnesses had told security forces the killers entered the village just before midnight Friday, and carried out the murders about two hours later.


They tied up their victims before killing them in a rampage of violence, the worst against anti-Qaeda fighters since November 16 when 13 members of a tribe opposed to the jihadists were murdered west of Baghdad.


A defence ministry official confirmed the details of the attack and the toll.


“Our information is that the killers were from Al-Qaeda,” said Major General Qassim Atta, spokesman for the Iraqi security force’s Baghdad operations, who put the death toll at 24 — 19 men and five women.


Atta said that 17 people had been arrested in connection with the killings, and that seven other civilians who had been discovered handcuffed in the village were freed.


He noted that the latter group were likely targets as well.


According to the defence ministry official, the families were part of the Sahwa (Awakening) movement, known as the “Sons of Iraq” by the US army, which joined American and Iraqi forces in 2006 and 2007 to fight against Al-Qaeda and its supporters, leading to a dramatic fall in violence across the country.


Control of the Sahwa passed to Iraqi authorities in October 2008 and since January 2009, their wages — said to have been cut from 300 dollars under US leadership to 100 dollars — have been paid, often late, by the government.


The Sahwa are, however, regular targets of Al-Qaeda, which remains active in the country.


Hour Rajab is a mainly agricultural region on Baghdad’s outskirts, mostly populated by the Jubur and the Janabat tribes.


Though the frequency of attacks has dropped significantly across Iraq since its peak in 2006 and 2007, figures released on Thursday showed the number of Iraqis killed in violence last month was the highest this year.


Altogether 367 people died as a result of attacks in March, the fourth consecutive month in which the overall number of people killed was higher than the same month a year previously.


Saturday’s violence comes as Iraq’s two biggest political blocs — the Iraqiya list of ex-premier Iyad Allawi and the State of Law Alliance of sitting prime minister Nuri al-Maliki — battle to form coalition governments, more than a week after results from the March 7 polls were released.


Both American and Iraqi security officials have warned that a lengthy period of government formation could give insurgent groups and Al-Qaeda an opening to carry out attacks.

d
Source: SGGP

Grisly massacre footage shown at Philippine trial

In World on January 21, 2010 at 12:59 am

MANILA, Jan 20, 2010 (AFP) – A Philippine politician accused of massacring 57 people displayed no emotion Wednesday as grisly footage was shown in court of the victims’ mangled and bloodied bodies being pulled from mass graves.


The video clips were part of evidence introduced by prosecutors against Andal Ampatuan Jnr, who is charged with murder over the election-related killings in the southern province of Maguindanao in November last year.








Datu Unsay Mayor, Andal Ampatuan Jr. (C)the prime suspect in the massacre of 57 people in Maguindanao province is led by a National Bureau of Investigation agent into a courtroom during the resumption of his trial at the national police headquarters compound in Manila on January 20, 2010 (AFP photo)

Filmed by a local government employee who accompanied police as they retrieved the victims from the mass graves in the two days after the murders, the video showed bloodied bodies, some of which were already decomposing.


As the footage was shown, a sister of one of the female victims broke down and had to be helped out of the courtroom.


A male lawyer representing the victims also rushed out of the silent courtroom, covering his mouth as he headed for the bathroom to vomit.


However Ampatuan Jnr, who has pleaded not guilty, had no visible reaction to the footage, at one point applying liniment to his neck as he stifled a yawn.


“He looked bored. It was like the most ordinary thing to watch,” Lilian de Lima, head of the government’s Commission on Human Rights who was in the courtroom, told reporters.


Prosecutors allege Ampatuan Jnr and about 100 of his gunmen abducted and shot dead the victims to stop a rival, Esmael Mangudadatu, from running against him for the post of Maguindanao governor in May elections.


Mangudadatu’s wife and pregnant sister, as well as at least 30 journalists travelling with them, were among the 57 killed. Mangudadatu’s relatives had been on their way to an election office to register his candidacy.


Police have said Ampatuan Jnr’s father and namesake, the patriarch of the clan who was then governor of Maguindanao, should also be charged over the killings.


Ampatuan Snr and several other clan members were arrested after martial law was briefly imposed in Maguindanao and charged with rebellion.


However no date for his rebellion trial has been set, and prosecutors have yet to lay murder charges against him.


Before the killings, the Ampatuans were close political allies of President Gloria Arroyo, who armed and used them to help contain Muslim separatist rebels in the southern Philippines.


 
 
politician accused of massacring 57 people displayed no emotion Wednesday as grisly footage was shown in court of the victims’ mangled and bloodied bodies being pulled from mass graves.


The video clips were part of evidence introduced by prosecutors against Andal Ampatuan Jnr, who is charged with murder over the election-related killings in the southern province of Maguindanao in November last year.


Filmed by a local government employee who accompanied police as they retrieved the victims from the mass graves in the two days after the murders, the video showed bloodied bodies, some of which were already decomposing.


As the footage was shown, a sister of one of the female victims broke down and had to be helped out of the courtroom.


A male lawyer representing the victims also rushed out of the silent courtroom, covering his mouth as he headed for the bathroom to vomit.


However Ampatuan Jnr, who has pleaded not guilty, had no visible reaction to the footage, at one point applying liniment to his neck as he stifled a yawn.


“He looked bored. It was like the most ordinary thing to watch,” Lilian de Lima, head of the government’s Commission on Human Rights who was in the courtroom, told reporters.


Prosecutors allege Ampatuan Jnr and about 100 of his gunmen abducted and shot dead the victims to stop a rival, Esmael Mangudadatu, from running against him for the post of Maguindanao governor in May elections.


Mangudadatu’s wife and pregnant sister, as well as at least 30 journalists travelling with them, were among the 57 killed. Mangudadatu’s relatives had been on their way to an election office to register his candidacy.


Police have said Ampatuan Jnr’s father and namesake, the patriarch of the clan who was then governor of Maguindanao, should also be charged over the killings.


Ampatuan Snr and several other clan members were arrested after martial law was briefly imposed in Maguindanao and charged with rebellion.


However no date for his rebellion trial has been set, and prosecutors have yet to lay murder charges against him.


Before the killings, the Ampatuans were close political allies of President Gloria Arroyo, who armed and used them to help contain Muslim separatist rebels in the southern Philippines.


Source: SGGP Bookmark & Share

Ammo crates unearthed at Philippine massacre suspect’s home

In World on December 4, 2009 at 4:41 am

 Philippine soldiers using metal detectors, sniffer dogs and an excavator unearthed more than a dozen crates of bullets Friday in the mansion of a local mayor linked to last week’s massacre of 57 people, a spokesman said.


Hundreds of army and combat-trained police units searched the houses of local mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr., main suspect in the country’s worst election-related violence, and his father for evidence.








Philippines President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (R) talks to family members of journalists killed in the Maguindanao massacre as she visits their wake in General Santos city in southern Philippines December 3.

A third house was being searched, an army spokesman said.


“Our troops were armed with a search warrant,” military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Romeo Brawner told reporters, adding security forces were looking weapons in the houses in the southern province of Maguindanao.


Security forces disarmed the Ampatuan family after entering their houses. Ampatuan Jr is already in custody.


On November 23, gunmen attacked a convoy of the family of a local politician planning to run for elections next year, lawyers and journalists. Fifty-seven bodies were later found off the highway, some on a grassy hillside and some buried in a hastily dug pit.


More than half the victims were journalists.


Ampatuan Jr and several as yet unidentified suspects face 25 counts of murder before a regional trial court in Cotabato City on the southern island of Mindanao.


They were accused of conspiracy in the execution of the wife, sisters and relatives of a rival politician, two lawyers, dozens of journalists and other civilians in Ampatuan town.


Local radio reports said soldiers with metal detectors and dogs searched through Ampatuan Jr.’s house, tearing down a concrete wall where the boxes of ammunitions were found. An excavator was also brought in to dig inside the housing complex.


Thursday, soldiers unearthed a large cache of weapons, including three mortars, four machineguns, three anti-tank bazookas, dozens of assault rifles and hundreds of boxes of bullets from a vacant lot about 500 meters from the Ampatuans’ residential complex.


Some of the boxes bore markings of “DND” — initials of the Department of National Defense — and “national arsenal.”


“We’ve started an internal inquiry to determine if these weapons and ammunition were issued by the government and if these were sold by some soldiers,” Brawner said.


The illegal sales of military weapons and corruption in the army bureaucracy are issues raised in the past by rogue soldiers who mounted coup attempts against the government of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.


Half a dozen armored vehicles mounted with machineguns stood guard Friday outside the walled compound enclosing the mansion of the Ampatuans that ruled for nearly a decade the Muslim-dominated Maguindanao province. Hundreds of security forces also manned checkpoints leading to the Ampatuans’ houses.


Source: SGGP Bookmark & Share

Cadaver hunt in Philippines massacre ends: police

In World on November 28, 2009 at 3:19 pm

Police have ended a grisly search for corpses and mass graves from an election-linked massacre in the southern Philippines, with the known death toll standing at 57, officials said Saturday.


The authorities dismissed several news reports that quoted a police official saying he had counted 64 bodies from the slaughter just off a farming road in the province of Maguindanao on Mindanao island.


“We ended the search yesterday,” Senior Superintendent Bienvenido Latag, the police chief of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, told reporters by telephone.


“We have 57 bodies in our official list. Of course we are still checking and if there are reports of more bodies we will verify those. But so far, the information that we have is that the total has not changed.”








A general view of the shallow grave where the bodies of victims of massacre were found in Ampatuan town, Maguindanao province.

Chief Superintendent Josefino Cataluna, the police chief of central Mindanao, also confirmed the toll.


The last 11 were pulled out from two adjacent mass graves on Wednesday, including five who were entombed along with three vehicles, police said.


The government has charged a local official in the area, Andal Ampatuan Jnr, with ordering and taking part in the killings. He surrendered to police Thursday and has been flown to Manila where he was detained.


On Friday Ampatuan Jnr was indicted of ordering his private militia of more than 100 gunmen to open fire on the group, which included relatives of rival Muslim politician, Esmael Mangudadatu, some journalists and passing motorists who had no known quarrel with the gunmen.


Ampatuan Jnr is a mayor in the southern Philippines who until this week was an ally of President Gloria Arroyo and a member of her ruling coalition.


Eight other members of the powerful Ampatuan clan have been invited for police questioning after witnesses also linked them to the killings.


The relatives and the journalists had been travelling to an election office to nominate Mangudadatu to run against Ampatuan Jnr for the post of provincial governor in next year’s elections.


Source: SGGP Bookmark & Share

Philippine massacre suspect in custody

In World on November 27, 2009 at 2:25 am

Philippines (AFP) – Philippine authorities on Thursday took into custody a politician named as the top suspect in an election massacre that left at least 57 people dead, Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno told reporters.


Andal Ampatuan Jnr was taken by helicopter from his hometown in Maguindanao province on Thursday morning to a nearby airport, from where he would be flown to Manila for questioning, Puno said.








A backhoe lifts a mangled vehicle unearthed from a shallow grave as investigators try to find more bodies, victims of a massacre in Ampatuan town, Maguindanao province. (AFP photo)

Ampatuan has denied being involved in the killings. “There is no truth to that,” Andal Ampatuan Jnr told reporters here when asked whether he led the killings.


News of the politician’s detention comes as Puno also announced that all the police from the town of Ampatuan are being investigated.


Meanwhile Philippine security forces have poured into the territory of where they have arrested and disarmed gunmen.


An AFP photographer witnessed armoured personnel carriers patrolling highways in the southern province of Maguindanao, and television footage showed police commandos surrounding buildings in major towns controlled by the clan. Related article: forces secure Philippine province


Police announced the operation had secured the first arrests since the brutal explosion of political violence, saying several gunmen were detained on Thursday morning.


“We don’t have an exact number (of those arrested) but our policemen in the area have arrested several,” national police Director General Jesus Verzosa said on DZBB radio.


Maguindanao is a part of the lawless Mindanao island, where Muslim clans rule vast areas backed by their own private armies, often out of the national government’s control.


Monday’s massacre occurred after about 100 Ampatuan gunmen allegedly abducted a convoy of aides and relatives of a rival politician, Esmael Mangudadatu, plus a group of journalists.


The victims were snatched as they were travelling in a six-vehicle convoy to nominate Mangudadatu as the opposition candidate for provincial governor in next year’s elections.


They were shot at close range, some with their hands tied behind their backs, and dumped or buried in shallow graves on a remote farming road close to a town bearing the Ampatuan name.


Fifty-seven bodies have been recovered so far, and police were expected to continue searching Thursday for more potential victims.


Ampatuan Snr had been grooming his son to take over as governor of Maguindanao.


The victims’ relatives alleged the Ampatuans organised the murders so that Mangudadatu would not run for that post.


The ruling Lakas Kampi CMD coalition late on Wednesday expelled both Ampatuans from the party.


Ampatuan’s brother, Zaldy, who was governor of an autonomous region on Mindanao that included Maguindanao, was also expelled.


“(They were) expelled for their failure to uphold party ideals and principles in their area of jurisdiction,” the coalition’s nomination for president in next year’s elections, Gilberto Teodoro, said in a statement.


Source: SGGP Bookmark & Share

President vows justice in Philippine massacre

In World on November 25, 2009 at 10:47 am

MANILA, Nov 25, 2009 (AFP) – Philippine President Gloria Arroyo on Wednesday vowed justice would be served after an election-linked massacre that claimed at least 46 lives was blamed on a political ally.


“The president is really very angry about this incident,” presidential spokesman Cerge Remonde said on the ABS CBN television network.


“The president is very clear that those people responsible, regardless of who they are, should be brought before the bar of justice.”


Police earlier said the top suspect in Monday’s killings was Andal Ampatuan Jnr, a member of Arroyo’s ruling coalition and the son of a powerful regional politician who has helped secure votes for the president in previous elections.








Photojournalists light candles during a indignation rally in Quezon City, suburban of Manila on November 24, 2009, denouncing in strongest possible terms the massacre (AFP photo)

 


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Arroyo vows justice as massacre toll hits 52

In World on November 25, 2009 at 10:47 am

Philippine President Gloria Arroyo vowed Wednesday justice would be served after 52 people were killed in a political massacre, but refused to say if an ally blamed for the murders would be arrested.








Journalists and troopers look as a backhoe pulls the wreckage of one of three vehicles that was dumped together with massacre victims along a hillside grave in Ampatuan, Maguindanao province, southern Philippines on Wednesday Nov. 25, 2009. (AFP Photo)

As more bodies were pulled out of shallow graves following Monday’s election-linked killings in the lawless south of the country, Arroyo insisted she was committed to tracking down those responsible.


“This is a supreme act of inhumanity that is a blight on our nation,” presidential spokesman Cerge Remonde said on the ABS CBN television network.


“The president has vowed that the perpetrators will not find the way to escape justice.”


Police earlier said the top suspect in the massacre was Andal Ampatuan Jnr, a member of Arroyo’s ruling coalition and the son of a powerful regional politician who has helped secure votes for the president in previous elections.


“According to the initial reports, those who were abducted and murdered at Saniag were initially stopped by a group led by the mayor of Datu Unsay,” national police spokesman Chief Superintendent Leonardo Espina said.


Ampatuan Jnr is the mayor of Datu Unsay and his father of the same name is the governor of Maguindanao province, a lawless part of the strife-torn Mindanao island where the massacre took place.


However, two days after the massacre, authorities indicated an arrest of Ampatuan Jnr was not imminent.


Speaking on DZMM radio, Espina said investigators still needed to speak with witnesses before they could secure a court order for the arrest of the suspects.


Asked if Ampatuan Jnr would be arrested, Remonde replied: “I will not telegraph our punches”.


But he said Arroyo had delivered a message to the Ampatuan clan, which has its own private army, not to obstruct the police investigation.


The massacre occurred after about 100 Ampatuan gunmen allegedly abducted a convoy of aides and relatives of a rival Maguindanao politician, Esmael Mangudadatu, plus a group of journalists.


The victims were abducted as they were travelling in a six-vehicle convoy to nominate Mangudadatu as the opposition candidate for governor in next year’s elections. He was not in the convoy.


They were shot a short time later at close range, some with their hands tied behind their backs, and dumped or buried in shallow graves on a remote farming road close to a town bearing the Ampatuan name.


The death toll rose from 46 to 52 after six more bodies were pulled out of the graves on Wednesday, according to police.


The victims included at least 13 local journalists who had been intending to report on Mangudadatu’s governorship nomination, making Monday’s killings the deadliest single attack on the media in history.


Ampatuan Snr had been grooming his son to take over as governor of Maguindanao province, and the victims’ relatives have alleged the Ampatuans organised the murders so that Mangudadatu would not run for governor.


Arroyo on Tuesday declared a state of emergency in Maguindanao and neighbouring Cotabato city, a stronghold of the Ampatuans, amid fears the killings could trigger a clan war.


But instead of ordering tough action against her allies, she sent a special envoy, Jesus Dureza, to the Ampatuan camp on Tuesday to get the clan to pledge its cooperation in an investigation.


The ruling coalition’s candidate for next year’s presidential election, ex-defence secretary Gilberto Teodoro, backed calls for the immediate arrest and prosecution of the suspects.


“This is a test case. The government should be decisive in going against this group, to arrest the perpetrators no matter who they are, whether they are political allies or not,” he said.


The Philippine Commission on Human Rights chairwoman, Leila De Lima, also called for immediate action by the president.


“I am appealing to President Gloria Arroyo to show political will, for her to show to the public that the investigation by the government is serious,” she told AFP.


Source: SGGP Bookmark & Share