(UPDATE) Maguindanao massacre toll rises to 46

Posted at 11/24/2009 5:23 PM | Updated as of 11/25/2009 10:32 AM

24 more bodies recovered in deadly poll-related incident

MANILA - The death toll from the savage political massacre in Maguindanao rose to 46 on Tuesday, as President Arroyo placed the area under an indefinite state of emergency.

Philippine National Police (PNP) spokesman Chief Superintendent Leonardo Espina told reporters in Manila that 24 bodies had been recovered on Tuesday, on top of 22 that had been found on Monday.

Regional police commander Chief Superintendent Josefino Cataluna described a grisly search operation along an unpaved road in the isolated rural village of Saniag, saying 17 bodies had been pulled from just one grave.

"They were piled on top of each other. It looked as if they were buried hurriedly," he told reporters from the scene.

The scale of Monday's massacre, as well as the targeting of apparently unrelated people, has shocked and deeply angered the country.

Fourteen of the victims were women and some of them were journalists with no apparent links to the clan war, the police and military said when the death toll stood at 22.

PNP chief Jesus Verzosa, who flew to the south to supervise the investigation, said he feared the death toll could rise with several other members of the kidnapped party of more than 40 people still missing.

"We still have to check one other suspected mass grave," he added.

Journalists on the scene said a mechanical digger was emblazoned with the name of the Maguindanao provincial governor, Andal Ampatuan, whose bodyguards had been blamed by the military as being behind the massacre.

Map showing Cotabato City and the provinces of Maguindanao and Sultan Kudarat, which were placed under a state of emergency by President Arroyo on November 24, 2009. (ABS-CBN News)

'Indefinite' state of emergency

Police on Mindanao island pulled bullet-ridden bodies from shallow graves in this remote farming area after gunmen allegedly employed by a local political chief abducted then shot dead a group of rival politicians and journalists.

As thousands of troops fanned out across the ultra-tense Maguindanao province, President Gloria Arroyo declared a state of emergency for the area that would allow curfews and road checkpoints to be imposed.

"No effort will be spared to bring justice to the victims and hold the perpetrators accountable to the full limit of the law," Arroyo said on national television.

"No effort will be spared to bring justice to the victims and hold the perpetrators accountable to the full limit of the law," she said at the start of a special cabinet meeting to discuss ways to control the violence.

The Maguindanao provincial police chief was sacked.

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."

President Arroyo also placed the provinces of Maguindanao and Sultan Kudarat and Cotabato City under emergency rule on Tuesday.

"There is an urgent need to prevent and suppress the occurrence of several other incidents of lawless violence," Press Secretary Cerge Remonde told reporters.

The said areas will be under an indefinite state of emergency, which gives the military and police wide powers of arrest and detention.

Crisis management committee

Jesus Dureza, presidential adviser on Mindanao affairs, told the ABS-CBN News Channel (ANC) that Mrs. Arroyo has instructed him to act as head of a crisis management committee that would oversee military and police operations in the three areas.

Dureza assured that there would be no warrantless arrests as he clarified that a state of emergency declaration "does not suspend any existing laws."

He said the military and the police have been ordered to disarm all residents in the three areas who are holding unlicensed firearms, including members of private armies affiliated with political clans.

"Holding of firearms without authority should be addressed through normal law enforcement. It (the massacre) has put this issue up front. The government has to do what is necessary," he said.

Dureza said he is setting up base at the Philippine Army's 601st Infantry Brigade headquaters in Tacurong, Sultan Kudarat.

Clan war

Military officials said the dead included Genalyn Tiamzon-Mangudadatu, who was on the way to file the nomination of Esmael, her husband, to contest the governorship of Maguindanao against Datu Andal Ampatuan, the head of a powerful local family.

Ampatuan has been elected governor of Maguindanao three times previously, always unopposed, although he resigned from the post earlier this year, apparently to circumvent term limits on elected officials.

One of his sons is the governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, an area which covers six provinces, and the family is politically allied to Arroyo.

None of the Ampatuans made any coment to local or foreign media.

Esmael Mangudadatu, Genalyn's husband, told radio that four people who escaped the massacre in Maguindanao province were under his care. "They will come out at the right time, they are safe with us," he said.

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.

Elections in the Philippines are usually marred by violence, especially in the south, where security forces are battling communist rebels, Islamic radicals and clan rivalries.

The southern Philippines is riven by clan rivalries, including one between the Mangudadatus and the Ampatuans. Many politicians and elected officials in the region maintain well-equipped private armies. With reports from the Agence France-Presse, Reuters, and the ABS-CBN News Channel