By Allen Estabillo
The death toll from Monday's gruesome killings in Maguindanao province rose to 52 following the recovery of six more bodies Wednesday from one of the hastily dug up mass graves in the outskirts of Ampatuan town.
Senior Supt. Willie Dangane, Cotabato City police director, said the joint police, Army and civilian retrieval teams found the six bodies along with three vehicles that were buried in a grave at the massacre site in Sitio Masalay, Barangay Salman in Ampatuan.
He said two bodies were initially recovered before noon Wednesday inside a Toyota Vios sedan owned by the city government of Tacurong.
Dangane said they retrieved four more bodies around 2 p.m. along with a van owned by UNTV network and a Tamaraw FX van.
"They appeared to have been shot at close range using a high-powered firearm and then dumped into a grave estimated at about 15 to 20 meters deep," said Dangane, who is supervising the retrieval and identification of the victims at the massacre site.
The police official said five of the six remains were identified as those of Henry Araneta of DZRH, Bart Maravilla of Bombo Radyo Koronadal, Julieto Ebarde of UNTV, Eduardo Lechonsito and Cecile Lechonsito.
He said the sixth body was initially believed to be of a missing UNTV camera man but they could not yet make an immediate confirmation.
Dangane said the recovered bodies were immediately moved to Koronadal City, where an autopsy will be conducted by government forensics.
The second day of the search and retrieval operations resumed early Wednesday morning to recover the remains of several missing victims of the Monday morning massacre, believed to be perpetrated by armed men hired by the family of Maguindanao Governor Andal Ampatuan.
On Tuesday, the retrieval teams recovered at least 46 bodies at the massacre site and a back hoe excavator owned by the Maguindanao provincial government that was allegedly used in burying the victims.
About a hundred armed men reportedly held and later killed two women lawyers, over two dozen journalists and members of the Mangudadatu family who were on their way to file the certificate of candidacy for Maguindanao governor of Buluan Vice Mayor Ismael Mangudadatu at the Commission on Elections provincial office in Shariff Aguak, Maguindanao.
The suspects initially stopped the convoy in Barangay Saniag around 9 a.m. and brought them at gunpoint to the vicinity of Barangays Salman and Malating, which is about 10 kilometers from the national highway. (PNA)