Article published on the 2009-11-25 Latest update 2009-11-25 13:03 TU
The killings have shocked the nation, putting pressure on President Gloria Arroyo to take decisive action. On Wednesday, Arroyo promised to find the perpetrators of the political massacre.
"This is a supreme act of inhumanity that is a blight on our nation," Arroyo said in a statement as she declared Wednesday a national day of mourning.
"The perpetrators will not escape justice. The law will hunt them until they are caught. No citizen in our nation should ever have to fear for his or her life in the free expression of political will."
The provinces of Maguindanao and Sultan Kudarat are in a state of emergency to prevent further bloodshed and allow police to undertake searches and set up checkpoints to find the gunmen.
Police said the prime suspect in the massacre was Andal Ampatuan Junior, a member of the president's ruling coalition and the son of a powerful regional politician. Andal Ampatuan Senior has helped secure votes for Arroyo's government. He is the governor of Maguindanao and runs his own private army.
"According to the initial reports, those who were abducted and murdered at Saniag were initially stopped by a group led by the mayor of Datu Unsay," said national police spokesman Chief Superintendent Leonardo Espina.
Ampatuan Junior is the mayor of Datu Unsay in Maguindanao province, an area in the southern Philippines of long-standing political conflict between rival Muslim clans.
About a hundred gunmen kidnapped a six-vehicle convoy of journalists, and supporters and relatives of politician Ismael Mangudadatu as they travelled through Amputuan township Monday.
The victims were on their way to file candidacy documents for him at the provincial capital in view of May 2010 elections. Mangudadatu immediately condemned the attack as an attempt to prevent him from running for governor.
He said the body of his murdered wife was horribly mutilated and that his dead sister and aunt had both been pregnant.
"We can't call him an animal because I have pets and they are tame. No, he is a monster. They are monsters," Mangudadatu told reporters, referring to Ampatuan Junior and his gunmen.
"My wife's private parts were slashed four times, after which they fired a bullet into it," he added.
"They speared both of her eyes, shot both her breasts, cut off her feet, fired into her mouth. I could not begin to describe the manner by which they treated her."
The Belgium-based International Federation of Journalists in a statement urged President Arroyo's government to give the press more protection, saying that under the current government the Philippines had become the most dangerous place in the world for media workers.
"At least 74 journalists have been killed during its eight-year tenure, yet the government has not acted to end the culture of impunity. At last count, only four convictions had been secured," it said.
Reporters without Borders also denounced the massacre: "Never in the history of journalism have the news media suffered such a heavy loss of life in one day."
Election-related violence is rife in the Phillipines: over 100 people died in the 2007 elections and nearly 200 in 2004.
2009-09-02 13:29 TU