MANILA - Bodies of at least 30 kidnap victims, including the wife and relatives of Buluan town's vice mayor, were recovered by government troops in Ampatuan town in Maguindanao province Monday afternoon.
Map of Maguindanao province, showing the location of the capital town Shariff Aguak, and the municipalities of Ampatuan and Buluan. (ABS-CBN News Graphics)
The killings are the first reported violence related to the May 2010 polls, which are still 6 months away. Most of the victims are women. Some are members of the media.
In a phone interview with ABS-CBN News, Buluan Mayor Ibrahim "Jong" Mangudadatu confirmed that at least 30 bodies have been recovered as of Monday evening.
Earlier, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesman Lt. Col. Romeo Brawner Jr. confirmed to the ABS-CBN News Channel (ANC) that 13 female and 8 male bodies were found by members of the 601st Infrantry Brigade of the AFP around 4:30 p.m. Monday.
Buluan vice mayor Ismael "Toto" Mangudadatu told ANC that his wife, Jenalyn, his sister, and some relatives were on their way to file a certificate of candidacy on his behalf when a group of about 100 armed men abducted them.
Mangudadatu, who is running for governor of Maguindanao, said some 15 media men who went to cover the event were also seized.
The Mangudadatus believe the abduction was politically motivated. Madaser "Toy" Mangudadato, a member of regional legislative assembly of ARMM, told ANC that they sent their female relatives to file the certificate of candidacy for "Toto" in the hope that their political rivals would not harm them.
Toy said they were warned that if Toto will personally file his candidacy, he will be hurt.
The entourage left for the provincial capitol at around 9 a.m.. Toy said the group could not be contacted because the cellphones of those in the convoy were "blocked."
Toto 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.
He said his wife's parting words over the phone was about the armed men slapping them around and commanding them to swallow the certificate of candidacy forms.
He told ANC it was the Ampatuans who beheaded and mutilated the bodies of his wife, his youngest sister, a lawyer, various relatives, supporters and other civilians, after robbing them.
ABS-CBN News has tried to reach the Ampatuans for comments but they could not be reached.
Family, political feud
The Mangundadatus were long-time allies of the Ampatuans, whose patriarch, Andal Ampatuan was re-elected governor of the province of Maguindanao in 2007.
Last year, the Mangudadatus went to Shariff Aguak to ask the senior Ampatuan to allow a member of the clan to vie for the gubernatorial post in 2010, according an abs-cbnNEWS.com/ Newsbreak's military source who is familiar with politics in the area.
According to the source, however, the Ampatuans were displeased because the Mangudadatus brought with them about 200 fully armed men. This, according to the source, contributed to growing animosity between the two camps.
Buluan Vice-Mayor Esmael Mangudadatu denied the Shariff Aguak incident during the ANC interview.
The senior Ampatuan wants one of his sons to succeed him as provincial governor, according to the abs-cbnNEWS.com/ Newsbreak source.
Sources in the military say Andal is known to control his own private army, which includes two CAFGU companies and a host of civilian volunteers.
Brawner said there were about 100 gunmen, most of whom were militiamen deputised as government guards by Ampatuan's family.
Brawner said the leader of the militiamen who staged the kidnapping was one of Ampatuan's sons. Ampatuan could not be reached for comment as of posting time.
Revenge killings and clashes among rival political families are common in Maguindanao and other parts of Mindanao island, where unlicensed firearms proliferate and parts of which are lawless.
Islamic militants on Mindanao have also been waging a separatist rebellion for decades.
(Read background on Maguindanao clan and political wars here and here.)
Toto Mangudadatu told ANC that he will proceed with his plans to run for governor next year. "No one can compel me not to run for governor. And I just want to state this in the presence of the people of the Republic of the Philippines, especially [those from] our province that I plan to run for governor to reform our province."
In a radio interview, Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Lorelei Fajardo said, "Dapat malaman kaagad ng kapulisan natin kung sino ang may kagagawan nito, para maipakita rin natin sa publiko na hindi natin mapapalagpas ang ganitong karahasan."
She added that the incident should be a warning that security is a priority in areas where election-related violence are high.
Maj. Gen. Alfredo Cayton, commander of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division, said it was the Philippine National Police (PNP) that was in charge of the security in the filing of the certificate of candidacy at the provincial capitol in Sharif Aguak town.
Cayton said they have sent a battalion of soldiers and 5 armored vehicles to help the PNP restore peace in the province.
Brawner said no arrest has been made yet.
In a phone interview with ANC, Toto Mangudadatu enumerated the following names as part of the group who accompanied the Mangudadatu family in filing Vice Mayor Mangudadatu's certificate of candidacy on his behalf:
Next of kin:
1. Eden Mangudadatu (Vice Mayor of Mangudadatu municipality and sister of Buluan Vice Mayor Toto Mangudadatu)
2. Jenalyn Tiamson-Mangudadatu (wife of Toto Mangudadatu)
3. Mamutabay Mangudadatu (aunt)
4. Rowena Mangudadatu
5. Farina Mangudadatu
6. Wahida Ali Kalim (civilian)
7. Faridah Sabdullah (aunt)
8. Zorayda Bernan (cousin)
9. Rayda Sapalon Abdul (cousin)
10. Pinky Balayman (cousin)
11. Ella Balayman (cousin)
12. Rahima Pyuto-Palawan (relative)
13. Atty Cynthia Oquendo
14. Atty Connie Brizuela
15. Mr. Oquendo, father of Cynthia
16. Unto (driver)
17. Razul Daud (driver)
18. Eugene Demillo (driver)
19. Miriam Kalimbol (business supervisor)
20. Civic Edsa (driver)
21. Patrick Pamansang (driver)
22. Chito (driver)
23. Abdullah Haji Dolong (driver)
24. Ian Subang (Dadiangas Times)
25. Leah Dalmacio (Forum)
26. Gina dela Cruz (Today)
27. Marites Cablitas (Today)
28. Joy Duhay (UNTV)
29. Henry Araneta (DZRH)
30. Andy Teodoro (Mindanao Inquirer)
31. Neneng Montaño (formerly of RGMA)
32. Bong Reblando, Manila Bulletin
33. Victor Nuñez (UNTV)
34. Macmac Ariola (UNTV)
35. Jimmy Cabillo (UNTV)
Mangudadatu said he cannot account for 9 of the 44 who joined the convoy.
The total number of those who joined the convoy remained hazy with some accounts reporting up to a total of 65.
The number of media practitioners in the convoy is yet to be confirmed, too, with some accounts reporting up to 35 - with reports from Gemma Bagayaua-Mendoza of abs-cbnNEWS.com/Newsbreak, and AFP