Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Maguindanao Massacre Now At 46

Philippine police investigators examine bodies of massacre victims after being recovered from a site in Ampatuan town in the restive province of Maguindanao in the Muslim autonomous region Tuesday, November 24, 2009. Gunmen massacred about 46 political supporters, journalists and lawyers who were on their way to file election papers for Vice Mayor Ismael Mangudadatu of Buluan town who is running for governor in Maguindanao province in next year’s polls. (Mindanao Examiner Photo / Mark Navales)

MAGUINDANAO, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / November 24, 2009) – Philippine troops have recovered at least 46 bodies from dozens abducted and brutally killed in the restive Muslim autonomous region in Mindanao, officials said Tuesday.

Army Colonel Jonathan Ponce, a spokesman for the 6th Infantry Division, said the bodies were recovered in Ampatuan town in Maguindanao province. He said at least 13 of those killed were journalists and two human rights lawyers.

“The headcount as of 6 p.m. Nov. 24 is 46 cadavers – 21 females and 25 males – and 13 from the media,” Ponce told the regional newspaper, the Mindanao Examiner.

Most of the bodies were recovered buried on a village. He said many of the cadavers were decapitated.

Ponce said hundreds of government soldiers were sent Tuesday to hunt down more than 100 gunmen blamed for the gruesome crime. Troops were scouring the mountainous areas in Maguindanao where the gunmen are believed to be hiding.

The armed men were behind the killings of supporters of a Buluan municipal vice mayor Esmail Mangudadatu, his wife and sisters, and journalists who would cover the politician’s nomination for the gubernatorial elections next year.

“We have more than 400 soldiers now hunting down the perpetrators of this crime. We have troops deployed in the towns of Maguindanao to prevent retaliation and more bloodshed,” Ponce said.

At least 17 journalists were killed in the attack, according to the Reporters Without Borders.

The military said at least 30 were shot and beheaded and their bodies recovered late Monday by soldiers in the town of Ampatuan.

Ponce said the soldiers recovered the victims’ five vehicles and were still searching for more bodies in at least two areas in a remote village in Ampatuan town. “Soldiers have recovered the five vehicles – four vans and sports utility vehicle – used by the victims,” he said.

No group has claimed responsibility for the killings, but four people who survived the carnage pointed to the powerful Ampatuan clan as behind the murder, but this could not be immediately confirmed.

Television reports said the four were among dozens of people seized in Shariff Aguak town. Mangudadatu said his wife and sisters were to file his nomination for the gubernatorial elections at the poll office in Shariff Aguak town.

Andal Ampatuan, Jr. is the current governor of Maguindanao province and his elder brother, Zaldy Ampatuan, is the governor of the Muslim autonomous region to which Maguindanao belongs. Both politicians who are allies of President Gloria Arroyo did not give any statement.

GMA television reported that those who survived the murder allegedly tagged both governors in the killings. The four are now in the custody of the Mangudadatus whose families are political rivals of the Ampatuan clan.

The Union of Peoples' Lawyers in Mindanao condemned the brutal killings and identified the slain lawyers as Concepcion Brizuela and Cynthia Oquendo, both members of the group.

“This barbaric mass murder not only indicates the early onset of pre-election violence, but, also shows that the culture of impunity clearly pervades with the existence of warlord-maintained private armies that have long been tolerated by the government, past and present. Considering their proximity to the present occupants of MalacaƱang, these warlords, as well as their henchmen, certainly believe that they can get away with cold-blooded mass murder.”

“It is doubly condemnable that among the latest victims were journalists and lawyers, who have been in the line of fire because of their commitment to their respective profession. Sadly, the names of Atty. Brizuela and Atty. Oquendo will be added to the long list of victims of extra-judicial killings under the present administration,” the group said on Tuesday.

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines branded the killings of journalists as barbaric and condemned the murders.

“Words fail to convey the enormous condemnation we heap upon this barbaric deed and its barbarous perpetrators, whose descent into moral monstrosity has no parallel in Mindanao's troubled history,” it said in a statement on Tuesday.

“We ask the government to swiftly arrest and punish the perpetrators of this mass murder. Although the Ampatuan clan said to be behind this mass murder are known to be her political henchmen and running dogs in Central Mindanao, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo should not and must not a la Pontius Pilate let this one more heinous atrocity pass into history without the deserved punishment to the killers and redress to their victims as well as to their injured, scandalized communities. Without such a categorical closure, we in Mindanao will continue to bleed and suffer from this systemic culture of violence and death. With hope we say, God forbid!” the NUJP in Zamboanga City said. (Mindanao Examiner)

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