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Maguindanao killing field death toll rises to 46 – AFP

November 24, 2009 7:14pm

(Update 3 - Wednesday 2:43 a.m.) The number of bodies recovered from the grisly Maguindanao massacre has now reached 46, an Army officer said Tuesday evening.

Lt. Col. Rolando Nerona, commander of the Philippine Army’s 46th Infantry Battalion, said 24 more bodies have been unearthed from the presumed massacre site at Salman Village in Ampatuan town in Maguindanao province before sundown Tuesday.

“Our last accounting showed there are 46 (dead) already," said Nerona. “Twenty-two were found above ground while 24 were dug up today."





Authorities had earlier recovered on Monday the bodies of 22 victims killed in the politically-motivated massacre. They were among a group of some 50 men and women, including lawyers and journalists, who were abducted by an estimated one hundred armed men reportedly belonging to the camp of Governor Andal Ampatuan of Maguindanao province.

They were about to file a certificate of candidacy in behalf of Esmael “Toto" Mangudadatu, vice mayor of Buluan town, who planned to run against Ampatuan’s son Andal Jr. for the gubernatorial post.

Chief Superintendent Josefino Cataluna, police regional director for Soccsksargen, said the police have already identified 20 of the fatalities.

Among them are Toto’s wife, Genalyn Tiamzon-Mangudadatu, and Toto's sister Eden Mangudadatu, the incumbent Vice Mayor of Mangudadatu town in Maguindanao.

Cataluna also said that survivors in the fateful incident have yet to surface as of posting time.

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo placed the provinces of Maguindanao and Sultan Kudarat as well as Cotabato City under a state of emergency to prevent violence from further erupting following the incident.

The digging and recovery operations have been halted Tuesday evening due to difficulties of working in darkness, Nerona said. They were expected to resume Wednesday morning.

Premeditated?

GMA News' Sandra Aguinaldo reported that based on the initial investigation, authorities believed that the attack against the group was "premeditated."

"May mga threat na nakikita. Na ililibing sila tapos patayin sila pag nagpatuloy sila (There were threats being shown, that they will be killed and buried if they persisted in going)," said Chief Superintendent Felizardo Serapio, Director for Integrated Police Operations in Western Mindanao.

At the crime scene, at least two common graves were seen by the investigators. One was believed to be for the Mangudadatus and their supporters, and the other for the slain journalists. The backhoes that were used to dig the graves were also found close nearby.

The police, however, belied claims that the victims were beheaded and the women raped, as earlier claimed by the Mangudadatu clan.

Rival political clans 'willing to cooperate'

Meanwhile, Presidential Adviser on Mindanao Affairs Jesus Dureza said the rival political clans assured him that they will cooperate with government investigations.

In an interview with GMA News "24 Oras," Dureza said the Ampatuans, including Andal Sr., ARMM Governor Zaldy and Datu Unsay Mayor Andal Jr., have expressed willingness to “submit themselves to whatever investigations" after they were implicated in the killings.




The Mangundadatus, for their part, assured that their family would not avenge the death of their relatives and would instead allow the government to resolve the conflict, he said.

Dureza, who heads the crisis management committee, also clarified that his meetings with the Ampatuans were not to determine which party was guilty but to prevent any untoward incident from further erupting “because of the high emotions now prevailing."

“I also said that the government will apply the full force of law whoever is at the receiving end," said Dureza.

Press secretary Cerge Remonde said Tuesday that both families are known as allies of Mrs. Arroyo's administration.

'It’s a pattern'

But the gruesome killing is not an isolated incident. Political analyst Jukipli M. Wadi, a professor of Islamic Studies at the University of the Philippines, observes a pattern of political violence in warlord-controlled areas of the country.

The killings continue because, according to Wadi, warlords such as the Ampatuans think that they can always be exempted from punishment, because the Philippine state had failed to resolve similar incidents in the past. This is what many have termed “a culture of impunity."

“(There is) abuse of power, of authority, (and) impunity. (They feel they are) untouchable, probably with their connections with the higher-ups and with many other political forces in the area," Wadi said in a radio interview on Tuesday.

“(There were a) series of political violence that had happened in the past but were never resolved…by legitimate or political authority…Hindi dinadala sa korte, hindi naaayos ng ating judiciary (These were never brought to the courts, these could not be resolved by our judiciary)," added Wadi.

The Islamic Studies professor’s analysis echoed the observation of Alfred McCoy, history professor specializing in Philippine and Southeast Asian issues.

“The Philippine state has remained weak and incapable of controlling the powerful families that plunder its assets, rule its provinces, and contend for control of national politics," said McCoy in the 1993 book that he edited, An Anarchy of Families: State and Family in the Philippines.

Arroyo blamed

A lawyer’s group has pointed its fingers at Mrs. Arroyo as sharing responsibility for the massacre because her administration’s policies have worsened warlordism in Mindanao.

In a statement, the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) said that “Malacañang’s tolerance of warlords greatly contributes to the persistence of the culture of impunity in our society."

“All government resources must be brought to bear on the Ampatuans. Otherwise, Malacañang itself would tolerate lawlessness and violence. The private army of the Ampatuans must be instantly disarmed and placed under immediate custody and investigation, and all their firearm licenses immediately revoked," the NUPL added.

Two women lawyers who were NUPL members, Concepcion Brizuela and Cynthia Oquendo, were among the massacre victims. – JV, GMANews.TV