More arrests of “narco politicians” were forthcoming after a mayor and 14 others were killed during a weekend raid, Philippine police said Tuesday, but critics claimed these were summary executions in the name of President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs.
Duterte himself has not publicly commented on the shooting deaths that occurred Sunday, but his officials have sought to distance the presidential palace from the police operation in the southern Philippines.
The incident came barely a week after Duterte vowed before Congress that he would carry on with his much-criticized anti-drug crackdown, which has unleashed bloody police raids against suspected dealers and small-time drug users nationwide.
The latest fatalities included Reynaldo Parojinog, the mayor of Ozamis city, his wife, Susan, and brother, Octavio. Parojinog’s daughter, Nova Princess, who is a vice mayor, was arrested along with several others and taken to Manila to face drug charges.
Several kilograms of methamphetamine hydrochloride, a highly addictive stimulant locally known as “shabu,” and high-powered firearms were seized from six homes owned by the Parojinogs, officials said.
But a Parojinog employee who survived the violence alleged that the police summarily killed the suspects and planted evidence, denying official claims of a shootout, local radio and TV reports said.
National police chief Ronald dela Rosa appears to be undaunted by criticisms from human rights advocates. On Monday, he said those on Duterte’s list of purported narco-politicians would be targeted next.
“We have begun a case buildup against them. Once there is a case already, we will operate,” he told reporters.
Sen. Risa Hontiveros said the survivor’s statement was “deeply disturbing” and should be looked at by the national police, whose credibility has been challenged amid widespread perceptions of corruption.
“Serious accusations are being leveled against the police who participated in the operation,” she said. “If these were proven true, then what happened in Ozamis was not a legitimate police operation but a state-sanctioned massacre.”
She said Sunday’s incident bore similarities to the killing of Rolando Espinosa Sr., a mayor in the central province of Leyte, who was killed when he allegedly traded shots with a raiding team while he was inside his jail cell in October last year. Police could not properly explain how Espinosa managed to get a firearm while in jail.
A Senate investigation had recommended that police officers who carried out the attack be charged with murder, but the justice department – headed by a fraternity brother of Duterte – downgraded the case to homicide, allowing several policemen to post bail.
“It is possible that the Parojinogs are part of the country’s despicable drug trade,” Hontiveros said. “But the government unequivocally must not disregard and sidestep the rule of law, especially the rights enshrined in the rule of law concerning the prosecution of criminals.”
What has occurred appeared to be a clear case of summary execution, said Rep. Edcel Lagman, a member of the opposition.
“It is hoped that police would file more cases rather than bullets into suspects,” Lagman said.
Included in drug list
Parojinog and his daughter were among more than 150 Philippine officials, including mayors, judges and police officers, that Duterte publicly named last year as being involved in illegal drugs.
Another mayor, Samsudin Dimaukom, was gunned down by police officers near the southern region of Maguindanao in October last year after he allegedly opened fire at them at a checkpoint.
In September 2006, unidentified men also shot dead a suspected drug lord on Duterte’s list.
Melvin Odicta and his wife were killed while disembarking from a ferry, three days after he had surrendered to authorities to deny alleged links to illegal drugs.
At least 2,700 alleged drug addicts and drug peddlers have been killed since Duterte took office in June last year. About 5,700 drug-related deaths were under investigation including those blamed on vigilantes, police said.
The government has denied having a hand in the many killings, instead blaming warring drug gangs who were allegedly purging their ranks. Yet the killings have unleashed a torrent of outrage from human rights advocates.
Days before the mayor’s killing on Sunday, Duterte renewed his vow to prolong his war on narcotics.
“I have resolved that no matter how long it takes, the fight against illegal drugs will continue because it is the root of suffering,” said Duterte, who often punctuates his speeches with expletives.
He said Filipinos involved in drug trafficking faced two options: “either jail or hell.”
Mark Navales in Cotabato and Felipe Villamor in Manila contributed to this report.