The killing of dozens of people in the southern Philippines has been blamed on clan warfare, and analysts suggest punishment of the perpetrators will be difficult. The BBC's Vaudine England reports.
This is the worst case of pre-poll violence the Philippines has seen
This part of Mindanao is ruled by clan warfare - local journalists describe the powers-that-be as warlords.
One of the men just made a widower by these killings, Ismael or Toto Mangudadatu, is vice-mayor of a small town in Maguindanao province called Buluan, but this underestimates his importance.
His cousin is governor of neighbouring Sultan Kudarat province, where an uncle is congressman in the ruling party of President Gloria Arroyo.
He was hoping to register as a candidate for governor of Maguindanao province, considered a bold move by local commentators as Maguindanao has long been controlled by the Ampatuan clan.
Datu Andal Sr, the patriarch of Ampatuan, has more than a dozen sons, each of whom, with related sons-in-law, have been given town mayorships in Maguindanao or other positions of power.
He is of the local nobility and gained power and influence by closely aligning his area to President Arroyo. About 90% of the votes in his district went to Mrs Arroyo in the previous presidential elections.
Philippine analysts believe the Mangudadatu bid for power in a second province was too much for the Ampatuan clan to handle, contributing to a dramatic rise in tension in the area in the run-up to the May 2010 elections.
It is normal for clans to have large private armies of scores and in some cases hundreds of well-armed, ill-regulated men.
In Mindanao, this mix is made more dangerous by the decades of Muslim and communist insurgencies. This has given more power and budgets to local police and military operations, and led to the formation of volunteer squads intended to assist in counter-insurgency.
However, budgets are never enough and the local powers-that-be usually add their financial support thereby creating new groups of loyal, armed men.
"We're a soft state, with a weak central government and deep-seated patronage politics," says Marites Vitug, an analyst of Philippine politics and author of a book on Mindanao.
"This allows political families to thrive, and to accumulate the balance of terror in their favour," she added.
However it is not known who was responsible for these killings - and for the reported mutilations.
Election violence is not unusual, even including the assassination of rivals. But this incident has shocked all observers for its scale and apparent brutality.
"Even to our enemies, we don't do this, not to women, not the mutilations. Even the most violent of our warlords, no-one can imagine this," said Amina Rasul, director of the Philippine Council for Islam and Democracy.
It is believed the delegation led by Mr Mangudadatu's wife included journalists and lawyers from rights groups to help ensure its safety.
According to long-standing unofficial rules of "rido", the local term for clan war or vendetta, assassinations avoided women, and avoided non-relatives.
The Mangudadatu clan originates in Maguindanao, as does the Ampatuan clan, but moved earlier to nearby Sultan Kudarat province to build its own power base.
"No-one really knows what the clans are fighting over," added Ms Rasul.
The area is described as resource-rich but underdeveloped, and analysts said it was a fair assumption that corruption was rife over aid and development funding.
Meanwhile, Mrs Arroyo has expressed her shock at the killings, and vowed to get to the bottom of them.
But both clans in this case are allied to Mrs Arroyo, limiting analysts' expectations of any effective response from the central government.
The larger issue is the rule of law is dependent on powerful local interests - a fact that allows local violence to proliferate and means investigation of this crime will be extremely difficult.
"The rule of law has been supplanted by the rule of lawlessness," said Ms Rasul.
Ms Vitug agrees that the judiciary has failed to tackle clan wars in various parts of the Philippines.
"There have been some attempts at mediation - until it becomes too dangerous," she said.