MANILA - President Arroyo on Monday ordered the military and police to immediately pursue the perpetrators of the gruesome massacre in Maguindanao province related to the May 2010 elections.
In a statement, Arroyo directed the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), through acting National Defense Secretary Norberto Gonzales, and the police, through Secretary of Interior and Local Government Ronaldo Puno, to order their units to "conduct immediate and relentless pursuit of the perpetrators, to secure the affected areas.”
Bodies of 21 of 44 kidnap victims, including the wife and relatives of Buluan town's vice mayor, who is a gubernatorial aspirant in Maguindanao province, were recovered by troops of the Army’s 601st Infantry Brigade in Ampatuan town in Maguindanao province Monday afternoon, according to AFP spokesman Lt. Co. Romeo Brawner Jr..
The bodies were recovered in Sitio Masalay, Barangay Salman in Ampatuan town.
Brawner said the military believes there are more bodies buried that have yet to be recovered. The bodies have not yet been identified. Some of the corpses reportedly showed "signs of mutilation."
Buluan vice mayor Ismael "Toto" Mangudadatu told ANC that his wife, Genalyn, his sister, and some relatives were on their way to file a certificate of candidacy for governor of Maguindanao province on his behalf when a group of about 100 armed men abducted them.
The killings are the first major poll-related violence in the May 2010 elections, which are still 6 months away. Most of the victims are women.
Mangudadatu believes the abduction was politically motivated. He said his wife called him at around 9:30 in the morning to say an armed group, supposedly of the Ampatuan clan, a political rival, flagged down their convoy on their way to Shariff Aguak town, where the election office of the province is located.
Mangudadatu said that aside from his wife and relatives, also included in the convoy were lawyers and members of media, who were supposed to cover the filing of the COC.
“Hold perpetrators accountable”
President Arroyo ordered Gonzales and Lt. Gen. Rodrigo Maclang, acting AFP Chief of Staff, to proceed to Maguindanao on Tuesday “to personally oversee military action against the perpetrators of these dastardly acts.”
“No effort will be spared to bring justice to the victims and hold the perpetrators accountable to the full limit of the law,” said President Arroyo.
Maclang ordered the establishment of checkpoints and chokepoints, with elements of Army’s 601st Infantry Brigade already in place to preserve peace in the area, in compliance with the President’s directives. Additional troops were ordered deployed to further secure the area.
President Arroyo also condemned “in the strongest terms the violence in Maguindanao.”
She was reported to have said that “civilized society has no place for this kind of violence” as she assured that the rule of law will be restored in the area and the lawless elements neutralized.
Meanwhile, Philippine National Police (PNP) chief director-general Jesus Verzosa said that a joint police and military task force led by Maj. Gen Alfredo Cayton, Army 6th Infantry Division commanding general, was immediately formed. The task force would include police and Army units in the region.
The task force was ordered to “conduct hot pursuit operations against all perpetrators responsible for the incident, recover remaining hostages and thoroughly and immediately investigate the incident.”
The pursuit operations may encounter difficulties since initial reports by the military said that those involved allegedly included Maguindanao’s powerful Ampatuan clan. The Ampatuans are staunch allies of the Arroyo administration.
In a separate report, Brawner said the abductors allegedly included members of the Maguindanao provincial police, police volunteers, and government militiamen. He said they were led by the mayor of Datu Unsay town, Andal Ampatuan Jr., and one Senior Inspector Dicay of the Sharif Aguak town’s police.
Brawner also said the victims were later brought near a camp of the Tornado Command of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) at Barangay Salman village, where the Army’s 601st Brigade recovered the bodies, along with their vehicles, at around 4:30 p.m.
Madasser Mangudadato, a member of the ARMM-Regional Legislative Assembly and brother of Esmael Mangudadatu, had also pointed to the alleged involvement of the head of the Ampatuan clan.
“They were all abducted by the armed men, and accordingly, allegedly, it was ordered by the old man (Maguindanao governor Andal Sr.) and Andal Jr. ...The abductors are Andal Ampatuan Sr. and Andal Ampatuan Jr., The ground commander is Andal Ampatuan Jr., together with Manerin Ampatuan,” he said.
He said that while in the custody of the armed men, Madasser said Ismael’s wife was able to call her husband.
“Tumawag sa husband niya, sabi niya ‘Pang, hinuli na kami ng mga armadong lalaki, hinuli kami ng mga armadong lalaki at pinagsasampal kami at ipinakain sa akin ang COC. Sinasaktan na kami’, that was the last word and the parting words of the wife,” he said.
Asked why the Ampatuans would commit such a crime, Madasser said the Ampatuans were scared of losing in the gubernatorial elections.
“It's all politics, politically-motivated, whatever it is, and it led to the massacre,” said Madasser.
State of emergency proposed
Meanwhile, Presidential Adviser for Mindanao Secretary Jesus Dureza condemned the abduction and killings.
"This is a gruesome massacre of civilians unequalled in recent history. Even women and working mediamen were not spared. I grieve for my friends in the media and all those killed while doing their job,” said Dureza in a text message.
Dureza called for a stop to violence but also recommended “that a state of emergency be imposed in the area and everyone be disarmed. Anything less will not work."