MANILA, Philippines (AP) - Philippine prosecutors filed charges Tuesday against the head of a powerful clan and 195 others in the biggest and deadliest murder case since the country's World War II war crimes trials.
The indictment said Andal Ampatuan Sr. and the others were part of a conspiracy to ambush and kill members of the rival Mangudadatu family and supporters, who were gunned down Nov. 23 on a hilltop in Maguindanao province. In all, 57 people died the massacre apparently to prevent Esmael Mangudadatu from challenging the Ampatuans' control of the province in a gubernatorial election.
Among those killed were 30 journalists and their staff who were going to cover the filing of Mangudadatu's candidacy papers.
The massacre was unprecedented even for the country notorious for election violence and political killings that have claimed hundreds of lives this decade alone. Only the war crime trials of World War II Japanese commanders in the Philippines involved the higher numbers of victims.
"I would say it is the biggest (trial) since the war, but I would even say in Philippine history because I don't put this in the same category of wars or those political crimes where you talk of numbers of victims," said Justice Secretary Agnes Devanadera.
"Legally, it will take a little while because every accused has a right," she told The Associated Press.
Mangudadatu, who said he had received death threats from the Ampatuans, sent his wife and other female relatives and supporters to the provincial capital in the hope that his rival would not harm the women.
Before Tuesday's indictment, only the patriarch's son, Andal Ampatuan Jr., had been formally charged.
"From the witnesses presented ... it can be deduced that the commission of the crime was planned deliberately by the perpetrators and that, until its consummation, there was an inexorable resolve to kill," the indictment document said. "Consequently, their plan was carried out leading to the mass murder."
Andal Ampatuan Jr. has pleaded not guilty and is seeking bail.
No date has been set for the arraignment of his father, brothers and the other co-accused.
The 69-year-old clan patriarch, an ally of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, has denied any involvement and said the charges have been fabricated. He also denied a witness's statement saying he allegedly told his son, "You know what to do" with the people in the convoy.
The Ampatuans are facing separate charges of rebellion for allegedly mobilizing armed resistance against the government in the wake of the massacre.
Arroyo had political alliances with the Ampatuans and their rivals, the Mangudadatus, but was believed particularly indebted to the Ampatuans, who delivered crucial votes for her in the 2004 election. Arroyo's administration party expelled the Ampatuans shortly after the massacre.
Last week, relatives of 14 of the journalists killed asked the nascent Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations to ensure that the suspects do not escape justice.