Gunmen Kill 21 in Southern Philippines
Gunmen Kill 21 in Southern Philippines

Military and police in the Philippines are searching for a southern governor and his militia after 21 people, including journalists, family and supporters of his political opponent were found dead.  More bodies are expected to be uncovered.

The military in the Philippines says it has deployed more troops and police have set up checkpoints to look for those responsible for the massacre.

The bodies were found shortly after gunmen kidnapped at least 30 people, allegedly to prevent a politician from filing a nomination for upcoming elections.

The military says a militia loyal to the governor of Maguindanao province on the southern island of Mindanao is suspected of being behind the killings.

Lieutenant-Colonial Romeo Brawner Jr. is a spokesman for the Armed Forces of the Philippines.  He says they are searching for the governor and the gunmen.

"Well, this is one of the bloodiest that we have experienced so far," said Brawner.  "We know for a fact that yes, that is right during elections, we have cases of political killings.  But, in this case because of the magnitude of the killings, the number of people involved, we believe it is already a massacre because most of the victims are civilians, unarmed.  And, it is really sad that these kind of things are happening."

Brawner says the military has found what looks like a mass grave and that more bodies are likely to be uncovered as the crime scene is investigated.

Initial reports indicate those kidnapped in the southern Philippines included a woman who was filing the nomination of her husband to run against the governor as well as several journalists and lawyers.

Brawner says the identities of the victims will not be released until after an investigation is completed.

Elections in the Philippines are often marred by violence from clan rivalries.

Security in the southern Philippines is further complicated by government troops fighting against communist rebels and Islamic radicals.  Brawner says security forces are preparing for retaliation from groups supporting those who were killed.