A senior Philippine corrections official who had been accused of links to the illegal drug trade was shot dead Wednesday in Manila, the fourth official from the department that oversees the nation’s prisons to be killed since last year, police said.
Fredric Anthony Santos, the legal services chief of the Bureau of Corrections, was waiting for his daughter in a pickup truck outside her school when two gunmen approached the vehicle and opened fire, a police report said.
“The victim sustained gunshot wounds to the head and [was] declared dead,” the report said, adding that the suspects escaped on foot.
The motive for the attack remained unknown late Wednesday, but Santos previously was linked by police to suspected Chinese drug lords.
Last year, Sen. Panfilo Lacson, a former national police chief, accused Santos of being close to imprisoned Chinese drug traffickers. Santos denied the allegations.
Lacson was not immediately available to comment on Santos’ killing.
It is widely known in the Philippines that the corrections bureau is one of the country’s most-corrupt government agencies.
In 2019, Santos testified at a Senate hearing into the bureau’s illegal practice of allowing high-profile criminals to walk free without the justice department’s approval. Santos was cited for contempt for being evasive during his testimony.
Sen. Richard Gordon, who led the inquiry into alleged anomalies in the corrections bureau, condemned Santos’ killing. He described it as a “rubout,” a street term for assassination.
“It is a warning to all in this country that if you know something and you speak up, someone can get you killed,” Gordon told reporters without elaborating.
In September 2019, President Rodrigo Duterte demanded the resignation of national prisons chief Nicanor Faeldon amid a public uproar over a decision to release one of the country’s most notorious convicts. Duterte also ordered the re-arrest of almost 2,000 convicts who were released under Faeldon’s watch.
The president’s order came after Faeldon told a Senate inquiry that he had signed a release order for Antonio Sanchez, 70, a former mayor serving a 360-year sentence for rape and homicide in the 1990s.
News of Sanchez’s impending release caused a public uproar that led to questions about government corruption under Duterte, who had been elected on a promise to fight graft and illegal drugs, among other issues.
Faeldon later said that upon further consideration, he had decided that Sanchez should not be released. One of Faeldon’s sons was arrested as a suspect during a drug bust in December 2018.
As president, Duterte has claimed that he has a “watch list” of drug suspects drawn up by the police with the help of community leaders. The list supposedly contains the names of politicians, police officers and government officials who, he alleged, were involved in narcotics trafficking.
At least 22 local officials, including mayors, have been gunned down since Duterte took office in 2016 and launched a bloody crackdown on illegal drugs. About 6,000 alleged dealers and addicts have been killed since then, according to police official figures, while local and international rights groups claim the figure could be five times greater.
BenarNews could not confirm if Santos was on Duterte’s drug watch list.