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Written by Bobby Reyes   
Tuesday, 24 November 2009 00:06
Review of an Associated Press Article about the Maguindanao Massacre Philippines declares emergency after 24 killed By HRVOJE HRANJSKI AP MANILA, Philippines – Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo placed two southern provinces under a state of emergency Tuesday, giving security forces free hands to pursue gunmen who killed at least 24 people in one of the country's worst election massacres. The emergency measures, including checkpoints and random searches by authorities, will remain in place until the president is confident that law and order have been restored in the region, Arroyo spokesman Cerge Remonde said. The attack Monday was on a convoy of vehicles filled with supporters of a gubernatorial candidate along with his relatives, including his wife, and several journalists. The candidate, Ismael Mangudadatu, who was not a part of the convoy, accused his powerful political rival of being behind the slayings. The government stressed that it would go after the culprits, regardless of where the investigation leads. "No one will be untouchable," Remonde told reporters, calling Monday's killings "unconscionable." Officials were still trying to determine the exact number of people intercepted by about 100 gunmen and taken to a remote mountainous area, said Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno. "We're hopeful that some people escaped, and we're hoping to find them alive," he said. Police said the convoy of about 40 people was going to register Mangudadatu, vice mayor of Buluan township, to run for provincial governor when they were stopped. Soldiers and police later found 24 bodies, including those of Mangudadatu's wife, Genalyn, and his two sisters, sprawled on the ground or shot in their vehicles about three miles (five kilometers) from where they were ambushed, police spokesman Leonardo Espina said. Mangudadatu said Tuesday that four witnesses had told him the caravan was stopped by gunmen loyal to Andal Ampatuan Jr., a town mayor belonging to a powerful clan and his family's fierce political rival. He refused to name the witnesses or offer other details. "It was really planned because they had already dug a huge hole (for the bodies)," Mangudadatu said. The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines said at least 10 local reporters were part of the convoy. Espina said they identified the remains of at least one journalist. Joy Sonza, head of a small private TV station, UNTV, said investigators told him they found the bodies of his correspondent and cameraman. A driver and an assistant cameraman were still missing, Sonza said. If confirmed, it would be the "largest single massacre of journalists ever," according to Paris-based Reporters Without Borders. The army and police were searching for as many as 16 other people who were missing, military spokesman Lt. Col. Romeo Brawner said, adding that troops were looking for more bodies in areas that appeared to have been recently dug up. A backhoe was apparently used to bury the bodies, said army commander Lt. Col. Rolando Nerona. Puno vowed there would be no sacred cows in the investigation. "Within day or two, we should be starting to call people or making arests. We have some information already about specific names but we can't disclose them," he said. National police chief Jesus Verzosa relieved Maguindanao's provincial police chief and three other officers of their duties and confined them to camp while being investigated. One of the police officers was reported to have been seen in the company of the gunmen and pro-government militiamen who stopped the convoy, police said. The Ampatuans were unreachable for comment. The region, among the nation's poorest and awash with weapons, has been intermittently ruled by the Ampatuan family since 2001. It is allied with Arroyo. Arroyo's political adviser Gabriel Claudio said he was meeting with Zaldy Ampatuan, governor of the Automous Region in Muslim Mindanao, when the killings occurred Monday to try to mediate in the long-running rivalrly between the the Ampatuans and the Mangudadatus. "I really thought that at the time that the affinity, the relations between the two families, will be affirmed," he said. He said the most important thing was to ensure there was no more violence. "There has to be swift and decisive justice," Claudio said. Philippine elections are particularly violent in the south because of the presence of armed groups, including Muslim rebels fighting for self-rule in the predominantly Roman Catholic nation, and political warlords who maintain private armies. The last elections in 2007 were considered peaceful, even though about 130 people were killed. The decades-long Muslim insurgency has killed about 120,000 people since the 1970s. But a presidential adviser, Jesus Dureza, said Monday's massacre was "unequaled in recent history." Julkipli Wadi, a professor of Islamic studies at the University of the Philippines, said he doubted the national government's resolve in trimming the powers of political dynasties like the Ampatuans because they deliver votes during elections. "Because of the absence of viable political institutions, powerful men are taking over," he said. "Big political forces and personalities in the national government are sustaining the warlords, especially during election time, because they rely on big families for their votes." — Associated Press writers Jim Gomez, Oliver Teves and Teresa Cerojano contributed to this report. Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
 

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