Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Toll Rising in Philippines Massacre

SALMAN, Philippines — As the toll in what is now considered the Philippines’ worst case of election violence rose to 57 on Wednesday, the authorities focused their suspicions on a powerful clan allied with President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. In Manila, the Arroyo administration promised a swift investigation. The president “is enraged by these barbaric acts,” a spokesman, Cerge Remonde, said. “She has literally thrown the full force of the law and has mobilized the security and police forces of the state to go after the perpetrators. We are expecting arrests and prosecution in the next 24 hours.”

The army announced that it would disband a 200-member militia controlled by the clan suspected in the Monday attack, the Ampatuan family. Later on Wednesday, Mrs. Arroyo’s political party, the Lakas Kampi CMD, announced that it had expelled the
patriarch of the Ampatuan clan, Andal Ampatuan Sr., and two of his sons, Datu Unsay Mayor Andal Jr. and Zalday.

The army also deployed 500 extra troops from the central Philippines to the province ofMaguindanao here on the southern island of Mindanao, an area that is home to decades-long Muslim and communist rebellions as well as fiefdoms ruled by powerful families.

As the authorities continued to search for bodies, they unearthed 11 more Wednesday on a grassy hilltop overlooking this village, not far from another mass grave with 46 of the victims — most of them members of the rival Mangudadatu clan, accompanied by 18 journalists.

The killings appeared to be directly linked to an electoral challenge to the Ampatuans mounted by the Mangudadatu family, which is based in a neighboring province. But they were rooted in a long-established political system where the national government has supported and sometimes armed families to curb the influence of Muslim and Communist insurgents. Families have often ended up clashing in feuds called “rido” that can grow so violent that they regularly send ordinary residents fleeing as refugees.

Investigators have yet to name suspects in the killings but are looking into allegations that members of the disbanded Ampatuan militia were involved. Led by the family patriarch, Andal Ampatuan Sr., the governor of Maguindanao, the Ampatuans have ruled the province as their fiefdom since early this decade. Because most of Mindanao is a semi-autonomous Muslim region, the governor had the authority to carve up the province into smaller fiefdoms for his sons. New towns, along with new administrative offices and housing, can be seen along the main road cutting through the province.

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