Most or all of the 22 women among the 57 people massacred Monday in the southern Philippines were sexually mutilated, the authorities said Friday, adding grim details to the catalog of horrors that has already emerged.
“Even the private parts of the women were shot at,” the justice secretary, Agnes Devanadera, said on national television. “It was horrible. It was not done to just one. It was done practically to all the women.”
While work continued to identify all the dead, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines said that it appeared that 30 journalists and their assistants had been killed. About a dozen of the victims were the relatives, lawyers or supporters of Esmael Mangudadatu, a local politician whose determination to challenge the entrenched Ampatuan clan in a gubernatorial election apparently touched off the violence.
Investigators said that the rest of the victims, perhaps as many as 15, happened to be stopped at a checkpoint along the highway in Ampatuan, a town in Maguindanao Province, when the convoy of Mangudadatu supporters and journalists was stopped by police officers and militiamen loyal to the Ampatuans. They were killed to eliminate witnesses, investigators said.
Ms. Devanadera said that several of the men accused of taking part in the slaughter had surrendered and offered to testify. Though the killings violated a traditional custom against harming women, the men seemed to be troubled more by the deaths of the journalists and the bystanders.
“They are bothered by their conscience because they thought that only the Mangudadatus would be shot,” Ms. Devanadera said.
Andal Ampatuan Jr., a local mayor who is suspected of having ordered the killings, turned himself in Thursday, protesting his innocence. He is expected to be charged with murder next week. Ms. Devanadera told The Philippine Daily Inquirer that Mr. Ampatuan's brother Zaldy and his father, Gov. Andal Ampatuan Sr., the clan patriarch, were also under investigation.
Mr. Mangudadatu's wife, Genalyn, his two sisters and two lawyers working for him were among the women who were mutilated and murdered. He said on Thursday that his wife had been shot “in her private parts.”
Ms. Devanadera said that the zippers of the women's pants had been undone and that some of the women had had their pants pulled down. She said the authorities were still trying to determine whether the women had been raped, but “it is certain that something bad was done to them.”
Felicisimo Khu, a police superintendent, said Wednesday that the women's bodies had been found separate from the men's.
At least one witness, according to Ms. Devanadera, told investigators that Andal Ampatuan Jr. was on the scene giving commands but that it was not clear whether he fired a gun.
On Friday, Mr. Mangudadatu, leading a 50-vehicle convoy guarded by soldiers and heavily armed police officers, finally filed his certificate of candidacy to run for governor of Maguindanao — precisely what the others were on their way to do when they were murdered. “I had to do it,” he said in a telephone interview on Friday. “I owe it to my dear wife, to my family, to my supporters and to all those journalists who died while doing their job.”
President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has been under intense pressure to pursue and prosecute the killers. The Ampatuan family is her closest political ally in the southern Philippines and played a critical role in her 2004 election victory. Her government has assisted the Ampatuans and other area clans in building potent militias to combat the secessionist and Islamist insurgencies that have plagued the region.
On Friday, she ordered Interior Secretary Reynaldo Puno to take direct control of the autonomous region in Muslim Mindanao, a collection of provinces on and near the island of Mindanao, and to suspend local, police and military officials if necessary to proceed with the investigation.
A military spokesman said Friday that two ground commanders of the armed forces in Maguindanao had been relieved of their commands. The military on Thursday took control of the provincial capital, Shariff Aguak, and other towns, a day after disarming dozens of militiamen employed by the Ampatuans.
The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, the largest media group in the country, urged the government on Friday to form a special court to try the suspects. “This is to help ensure that no whitewash will happen and to identify the roots and those responsible for this unimaginable crime,” said Nestor Burgos Jr., the group's chairman.