Manila, Nov 24 (DPA) The Philippines Tuesday declared emergency rule and dispatched additional security forces to a southern province where gunmen killed at least 24 people in the worst-ever election-related violence in the country.
President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo placed Maguindanao province, 930 km south of Manila, under a state of emergency to ensure that hostilities between two rival political clans would not escalate following the gruesome killings Monday.
The declaration was also extended to the nearby province of Sultan Kudarat and Cotabato City.
“No effort will be spared to bring justice to the victims and hold the perpetrators accountable to the full limit of the law,” Arroyo said.
The military and police deployed hundreds of extra forces to Maguindanao, where the killings took place in a village in Ampatuan town.
At least four people survived the massacre, according to Buluan town Mayor Ibrahim Mangudadatu.
Mangudadatu, whose two sisters and a sister-in-law were killed, declined to give additional information on the survivors, who he said would be identified at the appropriate time.
“They were passengers of one van that was able to flee when they saw that the other vehicles in the convoy were stopped,” he said. “There could be more survivors, but we are still checking.”
The victims were part of a group of about 40 people who were seized by about 100 gunmen on their way to file the certificate of candidacy of Buluan Vice Mayor Esmael Mangudadatu for Maguindanao governor in elections in May.
Among those killed were Esmael’s wife, three human rights lawyers and dozens of local journalists covering the event.
“We thought they were safe because they were women,” he said.
Lieutenant Colonel Romeo Brawner, a military spokesman, said the suspects were believed to be related to the Ampatuan family, a rival of the Mangudadatus.
“We have deployed an additional battalion of about 500 troops to Maguindanao to go after the perpetrators of this crime,” he said. “We are securing the area to ensure that there will be no retaliation.”
Chief Superintendent Leonardo Espina, national police spokesman, said additional police officers were also sent to the province to investigate and secure the area.
Espina said the national police chief has dismissed the head of police in Maguindanao who was implicated in the killing along with government militiamen.
International media and human rights groups condemned the killing, which has shocked even the southern region of Mindanao where feuding groups and families often settle differences through violence.
The Philippines is due to hold presidential and national elections in May. Elections in the country have traditionally been marred by violence, despite additional gun restrictions imposed during the campaign and polling periods.