Last update: November 23 2009, 11:56 PM
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AFP: Maguindanao death toll may reach 43

November 23, 2009

MANILA, Philippines -- As many as 43 relatives and supporters of a gubernatorial bet in Maguindanao as well as journalists who were supposed to cover the filing of his certificate of candidacy were abducted and believed murdered by armed men in Maguindanao, the military said on Monday.

As of Monday afternoon, however, only 21 bodies have been recovered, so far, according to the military.

Lt. Col. Romeo Brawner Jr., AFP spokesman, said Monday night that they estimated that 43 people were murdered by militiamen.

The AFP said it was verifying reports that the militiamen who massacred the relatives and supporters of Buluan Vice Mayor Ishmael Toto Mangudadatu, as well as some journalists, were supporters of the Ampatuan political clan.

Of the 21 victims recovered so far, 13 were women and eight were men. They were recovered near an encampment of the Moro National Liberation Front in Barangay Salman in Ampatuan town, Brawner told reporters in an interview at Camp Aguinaldo.

(Reports gathered by the Inquirer Mindanao Bureau, however, said that the bodies were recovered in the village of Masalay in Datu Abdullah Sangki town in Maguindanao.)

Brawner said there was no concrete report yet how they were killed. But based on accounts of troops from the 601st Infantry Brigade tasked to recover the bodies, some of the bodies were mutilated, said Brawner.

Sketchy reports reaching the military headquarters indicated that some of the victims were shot dead while others were hacked before they were buried. But Brawner said the military was still confirming these details.

"More bodies are believed to be buried so efforts to recover them are continuing, Brawner added.

He added that the 6th Infantry Division, under Maj. Gen. Alfredo Cayton, have already been deployed to pursue the kidnappers and look for possible survivors of the massacre.

"The victims were unarmed, helpless civilians and mostly were female, said Brawner.

Soldiers ordered to pursue the abductors found the 21 bodies spread out in Salman village, a mountainous area, where the vehicles of the victims were also found, related the military spokesperson.

A massive operation has also been ordered to ensure the security of civilians in the area, he added.

According to reports reaching the military headquarters, the kidnapping occurred at 10:30 a.m. on Monday, while Vice Mayor Eden Mangudadatu, her relatives, two lawyers and some journalists were on their way to the provincial office of the Commission on Elections in Shariff Aguak.

Traveling in a convoy, the group was about to file the certificate of candidacy of Mangudadatu's brother, Buluan Vice Mayor Ishmael "Toto" Mangudadatu, for Maguindanao governor, said Brawner.

Among those seized were Buluan mayor's wife, Genalyn Tiamzon Mangudadatu, lawyers Connie Brizuela and Cynthia Oquendo, Rasul Daud, Bai Farinah Mangudadatu and Faridah Sabdulah.

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