Unidentified gunmen shot and killed a judge who was overseeing drug cases in the southern Philippine city of Ozamiz, police said Tuesday as the presidential palace condemned the attack.
Regional trial court Judge Edmundo Pintac was heading home Monday when four men riding motorcycles ambushed him, police spokesman Superintendent Surki Seneres said.
“The gunmen fled shortly after the attack and a manhunt is ongoing,” Seneres said.
Seneres said the motive could be linked to the drug case against Ozamiz City Vice Mayor Nova Princess Parojinog.
If so, the judge who suffered six gunshot wounds is the latest victim of violence linked to President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs.
Parojinog was arrested in July 2017 in a major raid against what Duterte calls “narco politicians.” Her father, Mayor Reynaldo Parojinog, her mother and 13 others were among those killed in the raid.
The family has long been in power in Ozamiz, but the Parojinog patriarch was among about 150 local officials and politicians publicly accused by Duterte as either drug traffickers or protectors of drug lords.
To date, at least 19 local government officials have been killed since Duterte he took power two years ago. At least 12,000 people have been killed in the anti-drug campaign, according to rights groups while police report the number is about 4,500.
Last month, Mariano Blanco III, mayor of Ronda town in central Cebu province, was sleeping inside his office before dawn when four unidentified men broke in, overpowered his bodyguards and killed him.
In July, two mayors were killed in shootings a day apart. Antonio Halili, mayor of Tanauan city south of Manila, was killed by a sniper in front of city employees.
The attack happened during a flag-raising ceremony. Halili had been stripped of his powers to supervise the city’s police force last year because of his alleged drug links.
The National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) on Tuesday expressed outrage over what it called an attack on the legal profession and said the brazen killing of Pintac could never be justified.
“The rampant and continuing attacks against judges and lawyers are deeply disturbing,” the group said in a statement, noting that at least 12 lawyers and judges have been killed in the Philippines this year while many others have been subjected to intimidation and harassment.
“The rising body count and unresolved cases is a reflection of seemingly unstoppable impunity. This is a serious indictment of the present state of law and order, and an open disregard of the ‘rule of law,’” it said in a statement.
The attacks have a chilling effect on members of the judiciary in terms of carrying out their duties, it said.
“The existence of attacks and threats to legal professionals in a country with already outrageous levels of impunity weakens the very basis of democracy,” the group said.
It urged authorities to solve the killings and for the government to take action in stopping the attacks.
“The government must ensure that lawyers are able to perform all of their professional functions without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference,” the NUPL said. “It must ensure respect of lawyers and legal profession, investigate human rights violations and give justice to our endangered lawyers.”
Jacqueline de Guia, spokeswoman of the Commission on Human Rights, said Pintac’s killing was concerning since it was clearly linked to the war on drugs.
“We stress the importance of the judiciary in administering justice and allowing the rule of law to prevail, especially that only few drug cases reach the courts to date,” de Guia told BenarNews.
“The call is for the government to act with urgency as the death toll in the Philippines, especially those allegedly linked to the government’s campaign against illegal drugs, continues to grow each day,” she said.
Mark Navales in Cotabato City and Richel V. Umel in Iligan contributed to this report.