Police shot and killed a former mayor in the southern Philippines during a drug raid before dawn Friday, authorities said, in the latest killing of a politician in President Rodrigo Duterte’s relentless war against narcotics.
Talib Abo Sr., ex-mayor of Parang town in Maguindanao province, was killed after he pulled a gun on members of the anti-narcotics team who were searching his home in the southern city of Cotabato, according to Juvinal Azurin, regional director of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency.
Abo’s brother, Bobby, was also gunned down in a separate police operation, Azurin said in a radio interview.
“Both of them were killed after being rushed to hospital,” Azurin said. He declined to give details of the operations, but said that authorities had recovered firearms and illegal narcotics at both sites.
A day before Abo was killed, Duterte warned of going after big-time drug dealers.
Abo locked horns with Duterte some 12 years ago, when the president was still the tough-talking mayor of Davao. Duterte had said then that Abo was a narco-politician, linking him to large shipments of methamphetamine in the southern city.
Abo had denied the allegations and dared Duterte to produce evidence.
Duterte’s spokesman, Salvador Panelo, sought to distance the president from the raid, saying that the mayor was slain in a legitimate police operation.
“The list of those involved in drugs comes from the intelligence and the Philippine drug enforcement agency,” Panelo told BenarNews. “I don’t think he [Duterte] knows him.”
Duterte warns of violence
The deaths came shortly after Duterte warned big-time traffickers that he had his eyes on them, and that the drug war would continue until his last day in office.
“I will not forgive you. I will slit your throat in front of human rights. I don't care,” Duterte said. “I’m just warming up for the remaining three years. The big fish will take a hit, and if you ask me if they will die, they will die.”
Duterte had earlier promised to end the drug problem in the first year of his term, but later backpedaled, saying the problem was so big that it won’t even be finished when his term ends in 2022.
The president, who faces two complaints for murder and crime against humanity before the Hague-based International Criminal Court, had also told police officers he would pardon them if convicted of killing in the course of the drug war.
Abo is the 19th local government official to be killed since Duterte took office in June 2016, but his supporters have said that rival politicians could be behind some of the attacks ahead of the May elections.
In July, two mayors were assassinated a day apart, one of them felled by a sniper’s bullet during a flag-raising ceremony at a city hall. Antonio Halili, of Tanuan city south of Manila, was said to be in Duterte’s drug list as well.
In September and October, gunmen killed a mayor in the north and one in the central city of Cebu.
To date, more than 5,000 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 20,000.
Jacqueline Ann de Guia, a spokeswoman for the independent Commission on Human Rights, said the commission recognizes the ill effects of drugs, and supports the anti-narcotics campaign.
However, in the case of Abo and his brother, “it is necessary to find out the truth on what transpired during the said police operation to determine if the police has observed its own guidelines in serving warrants and the use of proportional force even during claimed encounters,’” de Guia said.
“An objective investigation shall ensure that human rights were not violated and all acts were carried out in line with our laws,” she said.
Abo’s wife, Amelia, said authorities did not have a search warrant. She also accused the police of planting evidence, a claim refuted by the government.
“They ordered us to get out. I had wanted to call our lawyer, but my husband told me not to,” Amelia told reporters in Cotabato. “They took our mobile phones and minutes later I heard gunshots inside.’
Mark Navales in Cotabato City contributed to this report.