The Philippines has gained another black mark and a notoriety it did not deserve. If only the leaders followed what they swore to do, the fate of the Islands should have been peacefull and idylic.
With his face hidden behind a scarf, this is the chief suspect in the massacre of 57 people in an election-related feud in the southern Philippines.
Andal Ampatuan Jr., a scion of a powerful pro-government clan, handed himself in today amid mounting pressure on the president to crack down on lawlessness and warlords.
The dead from Monday's massacre in an election caravan included at least 18 journalists and the wife, family and dozens of supporters of a gubernatorial candidate who wanted to challenge the rival Ampatuan clan, which has ruled Maguindanao province unopposed for years.
An army officer escorts Andal Ampatuan Jr. (centre), mayor of Datu Unsay town, after he surrendered in Ampatuan, Maguindanao in southern Philippines today
Andal Ampatuan Jr., a town mayor who allegedly stopped the convoy with dozens of police and pro-government militiamen, surrendered to presidential adviser Jesus Dureza in the provincial capital.
Military commander Lt. Gen. Raymundo Ferrer said: 'The family voluntarily surrendered him and they agreed that he will be investigated.'
Asked by reporters if he was involved in the killings, Ampatuan, who tried to hide his face with a scarf, replied: 'There is no truth to that. The reason I came out is to prove that I am not hiding and that I am not guilty.'
Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno said he had warned the family they risked a military attack unless they turned over Ampatuan by midday today.
As a helicopter carrying Ampatuan took off, shots rang out but the aircraft was not hit, Ferrer said. It wasn't clear who fired the shots.
Philippine Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno threatened a military attack unless Ampatuan turned himself in by midday today
The clan helped President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and her allies win the 2004 presidential and 2007 senatorial elections by delivering crucial votes.
Arroyo's ruling party, in an emergency meeting late on Wednesday, expelled Ampatuan, his father and a brother.
Ampatuan's surrender followed days of discussions between his family and Dureza, apparently in a bid to prevent hostilities between the clan's followers and government forces.
Ferrer said the area around the provincial capital was tense after troops disarmed about 350 pro-government militiamen loyal to the Ampatuans.
Such militias are meant to act as an auxiliary force to the military and police in fighting rebels and criminals but often serve as politicians' private armies.
The military deployed tanks and truckloads of troops throughout the province under a state of emergency to hunt down the attackers and prevent retaliatory violence from the victims' clan.
Relatives and mourners bury members of the Mangudadatus political clan, who was among those massacred
Police and soldiers on Wednesday found 11 more bodies at the site of the attack, bringing the death toll to 57. Six of the bodies were discovered in a large pit, buried alongside three vehicles, and five were found in a nearby mass grave.
The vehicles - a sedan and two vans - were crushed by a large backhoe that ran over and buried them, investigator Jose Garcia said.
Police Chief Superintendent Felicisimo Khu said they did not expect to find any more bodies.
Arroyo has come under intense pressure at home and abroad to seek justice for the victims of the massacre, with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and media and human rights watchdogs voicing their concern over the scale of the killings.
The gubernatorial candidate, Ismael Mangudadatu, had received death threats and sent his wife and relatives to submit his candidacy Monday in the convoy that was ambushed.
Mangudadatu said four people whom he refused to identify told him Ampatuan was seen with the gunmen.
National police director Jesus Verzosa said six senior officers, including the provincial police chief and his deputy, 20 members of Ampatuan township's police station and 347 militiamen were in custody for the investigation, but that not all were considered suspects.
Family members grieve during the funeral in Buluan town for five members of the Mangudadatus political clan
Arroyo vowed justice for the victims. Few, however, think she will be able to restore the rule of law in the impoverished region that has been outside the central government's reach for generations, and where warlords backed by private armies go by their own rules.
Maguindanao's acting governor is Sajid Ampatuan, another son of former Gov. Andal Ampatuan Sr., the clan's patriarch.
Human Rights Watch expressed concern that the administration's relationship with the family would hinder an impartial investigation.
Among the 18 dead journalists - the highest number of reporters killed in a single attack anywhere in the world according to media groups - was Alejandro 'Bong' Reblando, 53, a former Associated Press stringer.
He was the most senior in the group of reporters. Reblando, who was based in General Santos City, was a staffer for the Manila Bulletin newspaper.
He covered the southern Philippines for the AP from the late 1980s to the early 2000s, reporting on the Muslim separatist insurgency as well as local politics.
He is survived by his wife and seven children.
Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has declared a state of emergency in two southern provinces after gunmen killed at least 24 people in an attack on an election caravan.
The victims, at least 13 of whom were women, were found yesterday as officials searched for hostages who are said to include journalists and a politician's relatives, including his wife.
They were kidnapped as they travelled to nominate a new governor for the restless south Muslim province of Maguindanao.
Shallow grave: A member of the Philippine National Police points to the site where the bodies of 24 political supporters and journalists were found
The Maguindanao provincial police chief has been sacked.
Arroyo spokesman Serge Remonde said today's directive will enable the military and police to restore order and prevent lawless violence.
The measures include checkpoints and random searches by the authorities following what is the country's worst election massacre.
Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno said investigations would be completed within a couple of days and arrests made.
'There are no sacred cows,' he told television. 'It is going to be a direct investigation of the crimes committed.
'We have some information about specific names, not just those who ordered this thing, but also those who committed it.'
Officials are still trying to get the exact number of family members, political supporters and journalists who were intercepted by about 100 gunmen Monday in the attack that left at least 24 dead.
Troubled: Philippine Army trucks in Maguindanao where the bodies were found
Esmael Mangadadatu, a local mayor hoping to run for the higher position, confirmed his wife Genalyn Tiamzon-Mangudadatu was among the dead.
He claimed a rival political family, led by Datu Unsay Ampatuan, were behind the brutal murders.
'My wife was among those killed, as well as two sisters, three lawyers and several local journalists. They were all beheaded,' he said yesterday.
Mr Mangudadatu said he had asked his wife and relatives to file his certificate of candidacy for the post of governor in May’s election.
'I talked to my wife before she was killed and I know the Ampatuans are behind this atrocity,' he said. 'They are the perpetrators.'
Opposing groups and families in the southern Philippines are known to often settle their disputes through violence
Many politicians in the region maintain well-equipped private armies.
Women light candles for the victims during a rally marking the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women in Manila
Fears for the safety of Mr Mangudadatu’s supporters began after none of the missing group could be reached on their mobile phones.
It then emerged that about 100 armed men had stopped the Mangudadatu convoy at a police highway checkpoint and taken the victims to a remote mountainous area.
Then came the discovery of at least 24 bodies.
Local journalists rushing to the area where the bodies were found in Maguindanao province were ordered by troops to 'back off, or you could be next’.
Lieutenant Colonel Romeo Brawner, of the Philippine Army, said he believed his soldiers would discover more corpses.
‘We believe more bodies are buried,’ he said. ‘Unfortunately the killing happened before our troops got there.’
The election process for the May 2010 national polls began last week with the filing of candidacies for more than 17,800 national and local positions.
The actual campaign period begins in February for candidates running for president, vice president and 12 seats in the upper house of Congress. For those seeking local positions and nearly 300 seats in the lower house of Congress, campaigning starts in late March. Polling is on May 10.
Elections in the Philippines are usually marred by violence, especially in the south of the country, where security forces are battling communist rebels, Islamic radicals and the clan rivalries.
A house servant of the politically powerful clan accused in last year's massacre of 57 people told a Philippine court today that the family members plotted the killings of rivals and journalists over dinner six days before the ambush.
The witness, Lakmudin Saliao, took the stand on the first day of trial nearly 10 months after the November 23 massacre in southern Maguindanao province exposed the shocking violence of Philippine politics.
Among the 57 dead were 30 media workers travelling in an election convoy - making it the deadliest single attack on reporters in the world.
Key witness: House servant Lakmudin Saliao (centre) is flanked by security as he arrives at court. He claims that the 57 person massacre in the Philippines was concocted at a dinner
Massacre: Some 30 members of the media were killed in southern Maguindanao province in November
The patriarch of the clan, Andal Ampatuan senior, had gathered his siblings over dinner to ask them how they can stop their political rival from running for provincial governor, one of the key regional posts that the Ampatuans had held and exploited for years, Saliao said.
Former town mayor Andal Ampatuan junior, the scion of the clan and the prime suspect in the massacre, replied, 'That's easy. If they come here just kill them all,' Saliao told the court.
He said the elder Ampatuan then asked his children if they agreed with the plan, and according to Saliao, 'Everybody laughed, saying it's OK for everybody to be killed.'
Saliao said the Ampatuan patriarch ordered that his rival, Esmael Mangudadatu, must be stopped on a highway where he was supposed to pass on the way to file his candidacy papers.
Accused: Maguindanao massacre suspect Andal Ampatuan junior enters a courtroom at a maximum security prison in Taguig, south of Manila where he pleaded not guilty
It was on the same spot that troops recovered the 57 bodies gunned down and hastily buried in mass graves dug by a backhoe. Mangudadatu, who was later elected governor in the May elections, had sent his wife, sisters and other female relatives accompanied by journalists in the belief that their lives would be spared.
The Ampatuans have denied the charges. Andal Ampatuan Jr. and 16 policemen were the first to be arraigned and were led in handcuffs into the courtroom packed with anxious relatives and observers inside a Manila maximum-security prison.
Black-clad sharpshooters patrolled the premises while dozens of heavily armed police stood guard.
The carnage drew international condemnation and prompted then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to impose martial law for a week as troops cracked down on the Ampatuans - her political allies.
A prominent senator, Joker Arroyo, has recently warned that the sheer volume of the case - at least 227 witnesses are listed by the prosecution and another 373 by the defense - means it could drag on for '200 years'.
Officials wouldn't comment on how long the trial will last but cautioned it will take time.
An average criminal case takes about seven years to complete due to lack of prosecutors and judges and a huge backlog of cases.
The Maguindanao massacre is considered to be the largest criminal prosecution since the country's World War II war crime trials.
The New York-based Human Rights Watch urged the government Wednesday to protect witnesses and round up more than 100 suspects still at large, most of them linked to the Ampatuans' private army.
The watchdog said five people with knowledge of abuses by the Ampatuans have been gunned down.
'With fewer than half of the suspects in custody, witnesses, investigators, and others who might be deemed to be a threat to the Ampatuan family are at risk,' the group said in a statement.
'It's hard to fight the devil,' said Monette Salaysay, mother of Napoleon Salaysay, one of the slain journalists.
'So many were killed and yet the justice is exceedingly slow for helpless people like us.'
Clan gunmen suspected of November massacre clash with police in Philippines
Gunmen loyal to a powerful clan accused of the worst political massacre in the history of the Philippines have clashed with police.
Up to 30 armed followers of the Ampatuan clan, who are the main suspect for the killings in November of 57 people in a rival election convoy, opened fire on police commandos yesterday.
It is the first outbreak of violence since a southern province came under martial law and happened as commandos were patrolling the Data Unsay township where the massacre happened last month.
The attackers withdrew after two armoured troop carriers were sent to push them back, national police chief Jesus Verzosa said.
Martial law: Troops on patrol in the Philippines after high-powered firearms were found buried in Shariff Aguak
Clampdown: Tanks at the ready as a clan mansion in Shariff Aguak town is raided
They were among more than 2,400 gunmen who had massed in 16 of Maguindanao's 22 townships to defend the Ampatuan clan, which has ruled the province unopposed for four years.
President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo imposed martial law in the predominantly Muslim province on Friday amid fears the Ampatuans were plotting a revolt.
Authorities arrested the head of the family, Andal Ampatuan Sr, and at least six other family members and 60 or so followers over the weekend on suspicion of planning the November 23 massacre.
The deaths included 30 journalists and their staff who were travelling in the convoy of a political rival. The Ampatuan clan has denied any involvement.
Prosecutors today drew up additional charges of rebellion against the arrested suspects, as troops uncovered more hidden weapons.
Haul: Bomb disposal experts discover weapons on the farm believed to belong to the Amputuan clan
On alert: A Special Action Force policeman talks on the phone, with his gun on the ground
Ampatuan's son, Andal Ampatuan Jr, who turned himself in last month, is the only one charged with multiple counts of murder.
Justice Secretary Agnes Devanadera said murder charges would be filed against the other Ampatuans.
Further charges of allegedly organising armed resistance were being drawn up today after a haul of weapons were found on a fam believed to be owned by the clan in Shariff Aguak.
Brig. Gen. Gaudencio Pangilinan said 39 firearms and crates of ammunition were dug up. Other stockfiles, including mortar shells, were retrieved last week outside the Ampatuans' compound.
Officials said the weapons, some stamped with Defence Department markings, were enough to arm a battalion.
Troops are hunting for around 4,000 clan supporters in total, as some are said to be gathering in towns ready to hit back.
Security forces have sealed off Maguindanao's exit points and mounted checkpoints, police chief Andres Caro said.
Probe: A group of civilians being held for questioning wait on the ground outside a police station
Stormed: Soldiers raid one of the mansions belonging to the powerful Ampatuan clan in Davao City
Brig. Gen. Pangilinan said the gunmen were capable of carrying out bombings, arson attacks and abductions.
The Ampatuans are notorious for running a large private army, many of them pro-government militia who are meant to be an auxiliary force to the military and police in battling insurgents and bandits.
The clan helped Arroyo win crucial votes from Maguindanao during 2004 elections, but the administration's party expelled them after the massacre.
Citing a breakdown in law and order and massing up of Ampatuan's supporters, Arroyo on late imposed martial law in Maguindanao on Friday.
It is the first use of military rule in the Philippines since late dictator Ferdinand Marcos declared it nationwide more than 30 years ago.
Pro-democracy advocates accused her of overreacting and a group of human rights lawyers plan to challenge the move in the Supreme Court today.
An Ampatuan ally, Rep. Didagen Dilangalen, has filed a separate motion against martial law.
Arroyo sent a report on her martial law declaration to Congress, which will convene Tuesday to approve or reject it. Her allies dominate the lower house.World headlines on the Maguindanao Massacre :
SPECIAL REPORT: Slain lawyer ardent peace advocate in Mindanao, was mother, friend and fighter. by Leah Navarro
Son of Gloria Arroyo supporter named as prime suspect in Philippines massacre
Richard Lloyd Parry, Asia Editor
A third mass grave was uncovered in the Philippines yesterday, bringing the number killed in the country’s worst political massacre to 57.
Police said that they had arrested several gunmen linked to a powerful politician over Monday’s massacre of political activists and journalists in the southern island of Mindanao.
Police did not say how many were arrested but said they were militiamen under the control of Andal Ampatuan Jnr, who is mayor of the town of Datu Unsay and the son of a key ally of President Arroyo. The father is also the most powerful clan leader in the province of Maguindanao. “Those who were abducted and murdered . . . were initially stopped by a group led by the mayor of Datu Unsay,” said Chief Superintendent Leonardo Espina.
The victims were relatives and supporters of an opposition politician, travelling to register his candidacy in next year’s election for the provincial governorship, as well as journalists covering the event.
Mr Ampatuan Sr is the key local supporter of Lakas Kampi CMD, the coalition Government led by Ms Arroyo.
Throughout her presidency, she has been accused of turning a blind eye to extrajudicial killings, which have often been blamed on the security forces. Ms Arroyo declared a state of emergency in Maguindanao and neighbouring areas on Tuesday, sending extra troops and police, and promising to find the killers.
“This is a supreme act of inhumanity that is a blight on our nation,” she said as she declared yesterday a national day of mourning. “The perpetrators will not escape justice. The law will hunt them until they are caught.”
But human rights groups were scathing after reports that Jesus Dureza, a senior official of the President, had met Mr Ampatuan Sr and other members of his family soon after the murders.
“They have assured us that they will co-operate fully in the investigation,” said Mr Dureza, the President’s adviser on the southern area.
Human Rights Watch expressed “deep concern that the administration’s personal relationships with the Ampatuan family were likely to hinder, rather than aid, an impartial investigation”.
Philippines election massacre must be investigated as death toll rises
Police dig up body of victim killed in massacre in Maguindanao province, 24 November 2009.
24 November 2009
Amnesty International has urged the Philippine authorities to carry out a full investigation into a brutal politically-motivated attack in the southern province of Maguindanao that has left at least 46 people dead.
Many of the victims were relatives and supporters of an opposition politician who were travelling to register his candidacy in next year’s provincial election.
Amnesty International has been told that at least 12 journalists were also part of the group who were targeted. It is not known how many journalists were killed.
They were ambushed and abducted by about 100 armed men, according to reports.
The death toll from the attack rose on Tuesday after more bodies were found in shallow graves. A state of emergency has been declared in Maguindanao to allow police to search for the gunmen.
"These killings underline the danger facing civilians in the run up to the national elections. The authorities must immediately launch an independent and effective investigation into these murders and ensure that they do all they can to prevent killings and other violence," said Donna Guest, Deputy Asia Pacific Director, Amnesty International.
The sister and the wife Esmael Mangudadatu, vice mayor of Buluan town, were among those attacked.
The province of Maguindanao witnessed widespread election violence during previous polls.
Private armies, often employed by rich and politically influential families in Mindanao, have previously committed abuses with impunity.
"The government must prohibit and disband private armies and paramilitary forces immediately. The authorities should also establish clear standards on human rights protection and ensure their implementation, particularly during the election period when politically-motivated killings could increase." said Donna Guest.
Philippines 'poll-related' deaths reach 57
Philippines Senator Loren Legarda called the massacre 'inhuman'
The death toll from a politically motivated attack in the Philippines has now risen to 57, after 11 more bodies were recovered on Wednesday.
President Gloria Arroyo has declared a national day of mourning, and promised the gunmen would not escape justice.
The victims were killed on Monday, as they travelled to file nomination papers for the forthcoming elections.
Local politician Ismael Mangudadatu has accused a clan said to be allied to Mrs Arroyo of being behind the attack.
Mr Mangudadatu's wife and at least 13 journalists were among the dead.
On Tuesday the government declared a state of emergency in two provinces on the island of Mindanao to allow police to search for the gunmen.
Planned in advance?
No suspects have been formally named in the killings, but police say they are investigating a member of the powerful Ampatuan clan - a family which has helped secure votes for President Arroyo in previous elections.
Members of the family could not be reached for comment, but Mr Mangudadatu claims that gunmen loyal to the Ampatuans ambushed a convoy of his supporters on Monday as they were travelling to register his name for the forthcoming elections.
"It was really planned because they had already dug a huge hole [for the bodies]," he said, adding he had spoken to witnesses of the attack.
Among the dead were Mr Mangudadatu's wife, his two sisters and several key supporters, as well as at least 13 journalists who were travelling with them to witness his registration as an election candidate.
It is "the largest single massacre of journalists ever", according to the Paris-based group Reporters Without Borders.
Human Rights Watch has expressed concern the central government's close relationship with the Ampatuan clan would hinder an impartial investigation.
But President Arroyo promised justice would be served.
"This is not a simple feud between opposing clans. This is a supreme act of inhumanity that is a blight on our nation," presidential spokesman Cerge Remonde told a local TV network.
"The president is very clear that those people responsible, regardless of who they are, should be brought before the bar of justice."
BBC reporterRachel Harvey: "Three shallow graves have been discovered"
Analysts say the Ampatuans have effectively been in charge of the restive province of Maguindanao for decades.
Andal Ampatuan Senior has served in the Philippines Congress and won the governorship of Maguindanao unopposed for several terms.
His son, Andal Ampatuan Jr, was reportedly planning a similarly unopposed run to replace his father, but then Ismael Mangudadatu decided to run as well.
At least three of Ampatuan's other sons are town mayors and most of them have their own private gunmen to safeguard their security.
Ongoing Conflicts like Philippine attack aircraft and artillery bombed Muslim rebel positions since my father’s time in the military, circa 1947, raising fears of a humanitarian disaster in the south with nearly 130,000 refugees being forced to flee.
"We are conducting air strikes, close air support to our ground forces. Our forces are inching in towards the different barangays (villages) with the objective of clearing them," said Lieutenant General Cardozo Luna, deputy military chief.
"Of course we use big weapons like artillery."
The military insisted the clashes would not spread but members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) attacked a town on the island of Basilan, around 200 km (125 miles) southwest of where the main fighting was taking place, and disrupted voting in local elections there.
Rebel yell: A Philippine trooper patrols the streets in Takipan village, Pikit town, North Cotabato, today
The separatist MILF had called for elections in the six-province Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) to be cancelled because they want a new Muslim homeland with more political powers established as part of a peace deal.
Seven rebels, three soldiers and three civilians were killed in the battle for 15 villages in North Cotabato province, the military said. The MILF said four of its members had been killed and three wounded.
Manila, smarting from accusations it had abandoned majority Catholics, has vowed to flush hundreds of MILF rebels out of the area. The military said two villages were now clear of rebels.
On Basilan, three people, including one soldier and two civilians, were killed after around 300 MILF guerrillas attacked the centre of the town and disrupted polling.
"It was a surprise attack and the area looks like a ghost town now," said Mayor Tong Istarol.
Reinforcements: Philippine Army soldiers board a southern Philippine-bound military plane at Villamor airbase in suburban Manila
Lieutenant-Colonel Leonard Vincent Teodoro, commander of a marine battalion on the island, said they killed 15 rebels in a five-hour battle as soldiers, backed by artillery and helicopter gunships, drove the guerrillas away from Tipo-tipo town.
Nearly 130,000 people have fled their homes in North Cotabato, including many from nearby Muslim areas. More than half were crammed into schools and halls while others stayed with relatives or were forced to make shelters using plastic sheets.
Church leaders and lawmakers appealed for a halt to fighting and warned of a humanitarian crisis.
"The imminent refugee crisis is an unacceptable cost of the government's mismanagement of the peace process," said Risa Hontiveros, deputy minority leader of the lower house.
Philippine Army soldiers board a military transport plane. Government troopers were sent to augment security forces for the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao elections
An agreement on the size of a Muslim homeland and a future government's powers, including rights over exploring and developing mineral reserves and oil and gas, was halted last week by the Supreme Court amid protests by Catholic politicians.
Legal experts say the Supreme Court will likely rule the territorial deal unconstitutional and order the MILF and the government back to the drawing board.
The setback has enraged some MILF commanders who want progress after more than a decade of talks.
There are big plantations in North Cotabato but no major industries or mines.
Nonetheless investors, particularly those with mineral projects elsewhere in Mindanao, will be keeping a nervous eye on the violence. Big companies such as Xstrata and Anglo American have interests in the region.
"They could be worried about it spreading, about it becoming just general fighting," said Tom Green of risk consultancy Pacific Strategies and Assessments. "Although I don't think that's going to happen."
Traders in Manila said the elections and fighting were having little impact on sentiment for the peso, bonds and stocks.
Voter turnout was between 70-75 percent in the election for a new governor, vice governor and 24-member legislative assembly.
It was lower than the last ARMM election in 2005, when about 88 per cent voted.
The polls closed at 3 pm (0700) and results will be known within the next two days.
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