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Philippine Police Name Massacre Suspect as More Bodies Recovered

Philippine authorities have found more bodies in a shallow grave on the southern island of Mindanao, bringing the total number of victims in a massacre there to at least 57.

Philippine authorities have found more bodies in a shallow grave on the southern island of Mindanao, bringing the total number of victims in a massacre there to at least 57, including 18 journalists. Police have named a suspect, a member of a powerful political family, but there are doubts that authorities will bring those responsible to justice. And there are wider concerns about democracy in the Philippines.

Philippine police on Wednesday said their investigation focuses on Andal Ampatuan, Jr., a member of the powerful Ampatuan family, which dominates politics in Maguindanao province.

He is suspected of being behind one of the worst cases of election violence in the history of the Philippines and the most journalists murdered in a single attack.

The victims were in a convoy of vehicles Monday heading to register a candidate to challenge Ampatuan in next year's election for governor.  

Among the dead are the wife and sisters of the challenger, Ismael Mangudadatu.

Amina Rasul is the director of the Philippines Council for Islam and Democracy. She says despite the police investigation it will be difficult for authorities to enter Ampatuan territory, let alone arrest a member of the family.

"Most of the electeds [elected politicians] are Ampatuans, the police are their people, it's very difficult to get in without having more violence if they do not cooperate," said Rasul.
 
Rasul says few people will be brave enough to stand witness against the Ampatuan family and if no direct evidence is found the investigation will fall apart, like many cases of political violence in the Philippines.

Police say the victims in the attack were stopped by scores of gunmen who shot them at close range and then dumped the bodies in nearby mass graves prepared in advance. 

Officers say some of the bodies appear to have been mutilated and perhaps sexually violated. 

Political violence in the Philippines is common and national politicians have long relied on powerful clans like the Ampatuans to deliver them votes.

Rasul says now questions are being raised about how the government is managing the election process and whether the system can be reformed.

"With such kind of an alliance between warlords and the national elected government officials, it then becomes difficult to see how they could actually do democratic reforms, how they could actually do electoral reforms at the local level since they have a bond of gratitude to these local leaders," she said.

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo sent an envoy to the Ampatuans seeking their cooperation in the case. She also imposed a state of emergency in two southern provinces and ordered thousands more troops to the area to prevent further bloodshed. But Mrs. Arroyo has not said if she would support arresting Andal Ampatuan Jr.

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