Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Philippine National Police detained a provincial chief and three officers on suspicion they may have been involved in abduction and killings

Philippine National Police detained a provincial chief and three officers on suspicion they may have been involved in the abduction and killing of dozens of supporters of a politician and the reporters covering him. The Maguindanao province police chief, Abusana Maguid, and the officers were relieved of their duties pending an investigation, National Police spokesman Leonardo Espina said in a mobile phone text message late yesterday. Maguid may bear “command responsibility” for his officers’ actions, Espina said. The officers were seen by witnesses at the location of the Nov. 23 violence on Mindanao island, he said.“This is just the beginning,” Espina said. “We will not stop. All who are responsible will be made accountable. There will be no sacred cows.” President Gloria Arroyo yesterday put Maguindanao and neighboring Sultan Kudarat province under a state of emergency as the excavation of newly dug mass graves revealed more bodies. The killings represent the worst single incident of election- related violence in the nation’s history, according to the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism.

The military said about 100 gunmen stopped a convoy of people on their way to file Buluan City Vice Mayor Esmael Mangudadatu’s application to run for provincial governor. Mangudadatu, who wasn’t in the convoy, told local media his wife was among those whose bodies were identified and that some of the women in the group were raped before they were killed.

Rival Families

Jesus Dureza, Arroyo’s adviser on Mindanao affairs, said he has met with the Mangudadatu family and relatives of Maguindanao Governor Andal Ampatuan. The two families, who were once allies, are now political rivals, the Philippine Daily Inquirer said. The Mangudadatus pleaded for justice, Dureza said in a phone interview late yesterday before he was cut off. The adviser, whom Arroyo tasked to form a crisis committee, didn’t reply to calls or text messages seeking more information. The Ampatuans pledged to cooperate with any investigation, he said in a GMA News TV interview. “No effort will be spared to bring justice to the victims and hold the perpetrators accountable,” Arroyo said yesterday. She deployed extra troops and ordered Director General Jesus Versoza, the national police chief, to lead the investigation into the killings. He’s already on Mindanao, Espina said.
Twenty-four bodies were exhumed yesterday, bringing the death toll to 46, Chief Superintendent Josefino Cataluna, central Mindanao police director, said in a phone interview. Police will continue to dig at the site where the bodies were found, he said. Some 1,000 soldiers have been deployed to search for the suspects and secure Maguindanao’s “exit points,” Romeo Brawner, the armed forces spokesman, told reporters in Manila. Arroyo declared a state of emergency to prevent further violence in the region, Press Secretary Cerge Remonde said at a briefing in Manila. The last time an area in Mindanao was placed under a state of emergency was March 31, when militants from the Islamist Abu Sayyaf group threatened to behead one of three Red Cross workers who were taken hostage. Declaring a state of emergency gives the president the authority to use the military to quell violence, Cabinet Secretary Silvestre Bello III said in the same briefing. It may also give the president the legal basis to suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus, he said. The writ allows courts to require the military or police to present persons they are holding and justify their detention. At least 12 journalists were among those killed, Reporters Without Borders said.
“Never in the history of journalism have the news media suffered such a heavy loss of life in one day,” the Paris-based organization said in a statement, alleging there is a “culture of impunity and violence in the Philippines, especially in Mindanao.” Elections in the Philippines are often marred by bloodshed, with provincial politicians maintaining private militias. About 126 candidates and supporters were killed in the months leading to the 2007 elections and 186 in 2004, according to the Philippine Daily Inquirer. The Southeast Asian nation will choose a new president and thousands of national and local officials in May. The nation’s Commission on Elections will accept filings for candidacies until Dec. 1.
Maguindanao is a “hotspot” for political unrest, Brawner, the armed forces spokesman, told ANC television after the first bodies were discovered on Nov. 23.
Mindanao is home to most of the nation’s Muslim minority some of whom have been fighting a separatist war for decades. It’s also home to the al-Qaeda-linked militant group Abu Sayyaf and other groups engaged in kidnapping and other forms of terrorism.


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