Monday, November 23, 2009

Maguindanao massacre claims at least 36 lives (update)

11/23/2009 | 05:52 PM

(Updated 7:42 p.m.) They belonged to the rival Mangudadatu clan, but since they were women accompanied by a media delegation, they believed they were safe, protected by the Koranic prescription to spare women.

No one could have predicted the ruthlessness that met them.

At least 36 people, mostly identified with Buluan, Maguindanao vice mayor Datu Ismail "Toto" Mangudadatu and including a dozen media people, were abducted and later killed on Monday by gunmen allegedly led by members of the Ampatuan political clan.

Toto's wife, Genalyn Tiamzon-Mangudadatu, was among those killed, according to Toto himself.

Madaser Mangudadato, Toto's brother and assemblyman in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), said some of the victims were beheaded.

Even in the annals of political violence in the Philippines, this incident may have no equal in its brutality and in number of lives taken. The Plaza Miranda bombing in 1971 killed nine at a rally of the Liberal Party.

Philippine journalism's worst tragedy

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) said the victims in Maguindanao included at least 12 journalists.

NUJP officer Rowena Paraan said this is the worst single tragedy to hit Philippine journalism. "Not even in Iraq has there ever been this many dead journalists in one incident. And this one was deliberate,"she stressed. The Philippines has long been regarded as among the deadliest countries for journalists.

Paraan identified some of the victims as Bart Maravilla of Bombo Radyo-Koronadal, Henry Araneta of DZRH-Cotabato, Bong Reblando of the Manila Bulletin, and Neneng Montano of radio station DXCP.

Reports from NUJP chapters in Mindanao also listed the following media persons, whose affiliations were not immediately available, as among the victims: Ian Toblan, Leah Dalmacio, Gina dela Cruz, Marites Cabutas, Joy Duhay, Andy Teodoro, Mac-Mac Areola, and Jimmy Cabillo.

Lt. Col. Romeo Brawner Jr., spokesman of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), said in a local television interview that 21 bodies - 13 female and eight male - have so far been recovered from the Maguindanao massacre.

The victims were abducted at about 10:30 a.m. while on their way to the Maguindanao Comelec office in Shariff Aguak to file a certificate of candidacy (COC) in behalf of Toto, who intends to run for governor in the province. Shariff Aguak, the provincial capital, is widely known as Ampatuan turf.

Sources in Cotabato City fault the Comelec for transferring the regional office there this year from Cotabato City where it would have been easier for rivals to file their COCs.

Knowing that it would be suicidal for him to venture into Ampatuan territory, Toto Mangudadatu sent his wife and two sisters, believing that fellow Muslims would not dare harm the women. For good measure, the women were accompanied by lawyers and media professionals. They were all abducted anyway. A source familiar with the two families says there is little hope that any one of the hostages survived.

"Away politika po ito dahil yung nangyari pong pagdukot sa mga kamag-anak ni (Mangudadatu) by the elements of Mayor Ampatuan, sa ngayon po tinitingnan natin itong anggulo na ito," Brawner said on "24 Oras."

Ampatuan file photo
ARMM Governor Datu Zaldy Ampatuan, center, joins Shariff Kabunsuan Congressman Didagen Dilangalen, left, in welcoming President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo upon her arrival at MSU-Maguindanao, Shariff Kabunsuan Province in this photo taken July 21, 2008. Ronald Navarro-PCPO

"Unequaled in history"

Presidential adviser on Mindanao affairs Jesus Dureza said the "gruesome massacre" was "unequaled in recent history."

"Even women and media men were not spared. There must be a total stop to this senseless violence," Dureza said as he recommended the placing of the entire Maguindanao province under a state of emergency.

"Anything less will not work," he said.

According to officials, most of the 36 or so victims were shot but some were run over by vehicles.

Commission on Elections (Comelec) spokesperson James Jimenez withheld comment, saying Commissioner Elias Yusoph, who is from Mindanao and is more familiar with the situation, would issue a statement on Tuesday.

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo condemned the violence and ordered the Philippine National Police (PNP) to go after the perpetrators.

"The President has ordered the AFP to mobilize its forces to capture the perpetrators and recover the remaining hostages," said deputy presidential spokesman Lorelei Fajardo.

In response, PNP chief Director General Jesus Verzosa directed the formation of a joint task force between the police and the military that would conduct hot pursuit operations against the perpetrators and recover the remaining hostages.

One source in Cotabato who is familiar with Maguindanao politics said that the PNP was virtually "the security of the Ampatuans" in the province.

In an earlier interview with Radio dzBB, Brawner said the abducted victims included Mayor Mangudadatu's sisters Bai Farinah and Bai Eden Mangudadatu, the incumbent vice mayor of Mangundadatu town, also in Maguindanao province.

Toto said other abducted victims were lawyers Connie Brizuela and Cynthia Oquendo, Rasul Daud, and Faridah Sabdulah, and some 30 journalists. He said the female victims were sexually assaulted.


"Karumdumal po talaga ang ginawa. Pinagdurog-durog ang ulo at yung mga pantalon nila binaba po, nakausli po yung mga ari ng babae (What they did was really heinous. The heads of the victims were bashed and the females stripped from the waist down)," he said.

Brawner said they were abducted by some 100 men allegedly led by Mayor Datu Unsay Ampatuan and one Police Senior Inspector Dicay of the Shariff Aguak police force.

The NUJP said the "Ampatuan massacre" went beyond the issue of freedom of the press.

"The Ampatuan massacre, which the military has confirmed was perpetrated by Shariff Aguak Mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr. and police Sr. Inspector Dicay, goes beyond the issue of freedom of the press and of expression and strikes at the very foundations of democracy," it said in a statement.

Fajardo said MalacaƱang is extending its sympathy to the media.

"We stand in solidarity with our friends from media and we shall provide all necessary support to assuage their fears and grief," she said.

Despite the massacre, Toto said he would continue with his plans for 2010. "Tutuloy po ako (I will push through with my plan) and no one can compel me not to run for governor." - JV, HS, GMANews.TV

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