Unidentified gunmen killed a town mayor and two of his companions in an ambush in the northern Philippines, police said Tuesday, in the latest deadly attack on a local official.
Alexander “Alan” Buquing, mayor of Sudipen town in La Union province, his driver and a bodyguard were killed when the gunmen intercepted their SUV in Bangar town in the same province Monday evening, police said.
His wife, Wendy Joy, suffered injuries in the attack, which came months before the country holds elections for thousands of local posts, including mayors.
“We have yet to determine the motive but we can’t deny that politics may be involved because the date for filing of candidacies is near,” La Union police spokesman Chief Inspector Silverio Ordinando Jr. told reporters.
“We are looking into all angles and possible motives of the suspects. There’s an ongoing dragnet operation,” Ordinando said.
He said it was too early to say if the killing was linked to illegal drugs.
Buquing, 50, was elected in 2004 as a mayor running as an independent, but was re-elected twice under different political parties in 2007 and 2010. In 2016, he ran under the opposition Liberal Party and won again, and his wife, became his deputy.
In 2007, Buquing was suspended by the government ombudsman for alleged abuse of authority, but was later cleared.
Philippine National Police Chief Oscar Albayalde ordered a full investigation into the killing and formed a “special investigation task group.” He also urged people to come forward if they knew of any information that could help crack the case.
Buquing is the 18th local government official to be killed since President Rodrigo Duterte took office in June 2016 and launched a bloody anti-drug campaign. Critics have said that in some cases, political rivals were using the campaign as a cover to launch attacks against each other.
Last month, Mariano Blanco III, the 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. One of the victims was Antonio Halili, mayor of Tanauan city south of Manila, who was killed by a sniper’s bullet in front of city employees.
The brazen attack happened during a flag-raising ceremony. Halili was stripped of his powers to supervise the city’s police force last year because of his alleged drug links.
Duterte has made it a point to show a list of public officials allegedly involved in drugs. The list included police and military officers, local officials and judges.
At least three mayors in the list were later shot and killed in alleged shootouts with the police.
The president had said that he would protect police officers from criminal prosecution after giving them instructions to use deadly force if they feel their lives were at risk.
To date, at least 4,500 suspected drug addicts and dealers have been killed by the police in alleged shootouts, but rights groups have said that the figure could be as high as 12,000.
Duterte faces two complaints for murder and crime against humanity before the Hague-based International Criminal Court.
Analysts said Duterte last week may have inadvertently publicly acknowledged ordering the killings when he said during a public speech: “My only sin is the extrajudicial killings.”
His spokesman, Harry Roque Jr., said Duterte was not serious when he made the comment.
Jeoffrey Maitem in Cotabato contributed to his report.