Manila : A town mayor in the south ordered an armed group of pro-government militia, military and police to rape and kill women politicians, journalists and lawyers — as well as killing their male companions and eye witnesses — driving in a convoy to file the certificate of candidacy of several local government officials in the southern Philippines on Monday, a senior official said on TV.

"The female victims may have been raped. Women were shot in the genitals," teary eyed Justice Secretary Agnes Devanadera said with a quivering voice.

"Even the private parts of the women were shot at. It was horrible. It was not done to just one. It was done practically to all the women," Devanadera said, adding: "All the women had their zippers undone. The pants of some were pulled down ... We have yet to determine whether they were raped. But it is certain that something bad was done to them." She continued: "It was horrible. I cannot begin to describe it."

Shallow grave

Devanadera said the bodies that were taken from a mountainous shallow grave in Salman Village, Ampatuan town, Maguindanao from November 23 to 26, were mutilated and ravaged as if killed by "animals and senseless people".

Devanadera's gruesome description angered women's and media groups.

The same description was given by those who participated in the killings and those who survived the horrifying slaughter which was blamed on Andal Ampatuan Jr, mayor of Datu Unsay town in Maguindanao. "His order was to kill them all ... it appeared premeditated. One of the witnesses said that Ampatuan was the one who was ordering them [to kill] ... Another witness saw him firing his gun as well," said Devanadera.

"We have many witnesses, not just one. They were bothered by their conscience," explained Devanadera.

"Many of the witnesses were not afraid to give testimony against their former boss," she said, adding the conscience-plagued witnesses were too sick about what had happened that they were willing to be punished.

While the account of the justice department has not yet been officially released, sources told Gulf News that some of the bodies were beheaded and mutilated and that some body parts were strewn at a mass grave which was prepared by a backhoe owned by the Ampatuan family two days before the murder.

On Monday, Andal Ampatuan Jr led a group that stopped the convoy of Eden Mangudadatu, mayor of Mangugudatu town in Maguindanao and Genalyn Mangudadatu, wife of Vice Mayor Esmael Mangudadatu of Buluan town in Maguindanao at a major highway leading to the Commission on Elections office in Shariff Aguak.

Ismael Mangudadatu's plan was to challenge Ampatuan Jr as provincial governor of Maguindanao, a post currently held by Ansal Ampatuan Sr. The three women of the Mangudadatu clan were killed. One of them was pregnant.

A total of 57 people were killed, 22 were women and 27 were journalists (ten of whom were women).

Also killed were 15 motorists who happened to be on the road while the slaughter was going on at past nine in the morning.

Ampatuan's alleged private militia consisted of pro-government militia who were trained in "dirty works" including summary killing, another source told Gulf News.

Ampatuan has been called "sick in the mind" for thinking that he could eliminate all the eyewitnesses of a mass slaughter.

Earlier, Ampatuan went into hiding in nearby Davao City. He surrendered to authorities on Thursday prior to his imprisonment at the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) in Manila.