Investigators have found two apparent murder victims at properties owned by a Muslim clan accused of the Philippines’ worst political massacre, the justice secretary said yesterday.
Forensics experts found the skeletons in shallow graves on Friday at a grassy field and a corn plantation owned by the Ampatuan family in southern Maguindanao province, Philippine Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said.
“We have information as to their identities, but we are still validating them before we can announce [their names] officially,” de Lima said.
The two were believed to be murder victims, she said, but did not elaborate.
The Ampatuan clan is accused of carrying out the murders of 57 people in November 2009 in Maguindanao, an impoverished province the family had controled for over a decade.
The killings — the worst political massacre in Philippine history — were meant to stop a rival from another powerful family, Esmael Mangudadatu, from running for the provincial governorship.
The victims were relatives and supporters of Mangudadatu, who were to have filed his election nomination papers, as well as at least 32 local journalists who had traveled in the convoy.
Their bodies were later found in shallow pits and Andal Ampatuan Jr, the clan patriarch’s son and namesake, has gone on trial for the killings in Manila, where witnesses have testified he gunned down most of the victims.
Although the death toll is officially 57, a 33rd journalist, Humberto Momay, is believed to have been killed as well.
Confirmation of Momay’s death would bring the toll to 58, but the Ampatuans are being prosecuted for only 57 murders because his body remains missing.
Apart from Ampatuan Jr, five other senior clan members, including his father, were among 196 people charged in connection with the crime.
De Lima did not say whether the discovery of the skeletons would have an effect on the case, or whether the diggings were carried out as part of the prosecution’s continuing investigation into the massacre.
She had earlier said that authorities were looking for alleged mass graves around Maguindanao believed to contain the remains of at least 200 past victims of the Ampatuan clan.