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Local politician named as suspect in Philippines massacre

Security forces investigating the Philippines massacre earlier this week have identified Andal Ampatuan Jr., a close ally to President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, as a suspect.

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According to the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the Philippine National Police are conducting a search for the man who operated the backhoe believed to have been used to bury some of the victims of Monday's attack.

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Chief Supt. Leonardo Espina, PNP spokesman, said on Wednesday the backhoe operator may lead police investigators to the identities of the armed men who held hostage and later executed the victims….
Espina said the backhoe, emblazoned with the name of Maguindanao Gov. Andal Ampatuan Sr., was apparently used to dig up the graves where some of the bodies were found.

The Inquirer also reports that police lawyers are investigating the final telephone exchange between Mangudadatu and his wife, which could be a crucial piece of evidence in the prosecution of suspects related to the massacre.

Mangudadatu said he received a text message from his wife, shortly before the massacre, that their six-car convoy had been blocked by men of the Ampatuans and that Datu Unsay Mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr. had even slapped her.

ABS-CBN reports that the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) deployed more troops on Wednesday to help maintain order in Maguindanao. According to AFP spokesperson Lt. Col. Romeo Brawner Jr., air gunships are being used to conduct pursuit operations against the suspects. Moreover, a total gun ban is in effect in the province, and the extra troops are tasked with checking for firearms.

The question remains as to whether the government will crack down on the Ampatuan family, which helped secure votes for Arroyo in previous presidential elections, the Christian Science Monitor noted.

…[S]trong words and highly publicized manhunts have become common after political killings in the Philippines, while successful prosecutions have been rare. Some analysts are convinced the Ampatuan family will remain in power….
Arroyo may face greater pressure to pursue justice in this case because of the uproar it has created. Since so many local journalists were killed, the government is under fire not only from the Philippines' National Union of Journalists but also from international organizations such as Reporters Without Borders and the Committee to Protect Journalists.