Police shot and killed four inmates who were at a heavily guarded prison facility in the southern Philippine city of Davao, hometown of President Rodrigo Duterte, in what authorities described Sunday as a drug raid gone awry.
Three police officers were also wounded and a jail warden arrested after it turned out that the facility was being used by inmates in the illegal drug trade, Senior Inspector Maria Theresita Gaspan, the city police spokeswoman, told BenarNews.
Law-enforcement agents carried out the surprise raid before dawn Saturday, but the operation turned violent when one of the inmates opened fire with a homemade gun, Gaspan said.
“They intentionally did not follow orders when our team asked them to get out of their cell,” she said. “One of them fired his gun while the three others, using the bladed weapons, attacked.”
“We didn’t have a choice. Our police returned fire and the four were neutralized,” Gaspan said, using the police slang for slain enemies. Three police officers suffered injuries that were not life-threatening, she said.
Authorities recovered an undetermined amount of methamphetamine from the slain inmates, while nine others turned out positive for using the same substance. The prison chief, Roman Hernandez, was arrested.
Days prior to the incident, Duterte renewed his attacks against critics of his drug war, which he vowed to be “harsher in the days to come.”
Police have said that about 5,000 suspected drug pushers and dealers have been slain since Duterte became president three years ago on a vow to end the drug scourge. Rights groups, however, have reported thousands more deaths, with many street killings going unreported.
Duterte warned that he “will kill anybody who stands in the way” of his anti-narcotics campaign.
Saturday’s incident was not the first time that a gunbattle had ensued inside a jail facility.
In November 2016, months after Duterte took office, Rolando Espinosa, a mayor in the central Philippines whom the president had accused of being involved in illegal drugs, was slain in an alleged shootout with police who had gone to his jail cell.
Duterte is facing two complaints before the International Criminal Court in Geneva. One was filed by a former police officer and a self-confessed hitman who said he carried out assassinations for Duterte. The second was filed by relatives of eight people slain by police in the drug war.
But the strongman president had responded by lambasting the ICC, and daring them to come to the Philippines where he said he would have them arrested. He had also removed the country from membership with the court.
Jeoffrey Maitem in Cotabato and Joseph Jubelag in General Santos contributed to this report.