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Innocent motorists among Ampatuan massacre victims

Eduardo Lechonsito, a government employee in Tacurong City, Sultan Kudarat, was bound for a hospital in Cotabato City after suffering a mild stroke early Monday morning. Lechonsito, 53, went with his wife Cecille, his co-workers Mercy Palabrica and Daryll delos Reyes, and driver Wilhelm Palabrica. Oblivious to the danger up ahead, Lechonsito's group traveled along the national highway in Ampatuan town in Maguindanao en route to the Cotabato Regional Medical Center in Cotabato City. They were behind the convoy that turned out to be the target of about a hundred militiamen believed to be private army members of the Ampatuan clan. According to Tom Robles, head of the Tacurong City Employees Union, Lechonsito and his companions were abducted and killed on mere suspicion that they were part of the convoy led by Genalyn Mangudadatu, wife of gubernatorial aspirant Buluan town Vice Mayor Ismael "Toto" Mangudadatu. "Doon sa highway, napasama lang sila sa na-hold na convoy," Robles told GMANews.TV.
News of the mass killing shocked the nation Monday afternoon. Authorities said the fatalities included women and several journalists. As of Wednesday noon, the total number of bodies recovered in the massacre site in Ampatuan town had reached 57. Also on Wednesday, police operatives excavated a red Toyota Vios at the killing fields. Chief Superintendent Felicisimo Khu, head of the Task Force Alpha in Maguindanao, confirmed that the vehicle was the one used by Lechonsito's party. "Kay Mr. Lechonsito nga iyong kotse," Khu told GMANews.TV.
A wrecked Toyota Vios was excavated on Wednesday afternoon at the massacre site in Ampatuan, Maguindanao. Police confirmed the vehicle was the one used by the group of Eduardo Lechonsito, who became unwitting victims in Monday's gruesome killing. Photo by Chino Gaston (left); Photo from Mike Maga (right)
He added that the bodies of three passengers have been recovered. The bodies of Mercy Palabrica and Wilhelm Palabrica were recovered Tuesday, while that of Cecille Lechonsito was recovered Wednesday noon. "Hinahanap pa namin yung kay Mr. Lechonsito at dun sa isa (referring to Daryll delos Reyes)," Khu added. Robles said the recovered vehicle had the seal of the Tacurong City government, confirming suspicions that Lechonsito's group was among the victims of the massacre. “Yung nahukay na kotse, may seal kasi ng Tacurong government. So alam namin na kay Mr. Lechonsito iyon," Robles said. Robles said the Tacurong City Employees Union are denouncing the attack and would prod the government to deliver justice to the victims. “Kinukundina namin ang nangyari. Magbibigay kami ng position paper. Sa Sunday, magsusuot kami ng black at maglalabas kami ng mga tarpaulin na nagsasabing kinukundina namin ang pangyayari," he said. - RSJ, GMANews.TV