Local government officials had been warned against involving themselves with illegal drugs, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said in his first public comments about the killings of a mayor and 14 other suspects during an anti-narcotics raid on July 30.
Months before the raid in the southern city of Ozamiz, Duterte said he met with the country’s mayors and told them about the seriousness of his administration’s war on drugs, which has left thousands of alleged addicts and traffickers dead since he took office in June 2016.
He said Reynaldo Parojinog, the late mayor of Ozamiz, was among those officials who attended that meeting. On Sunday, police allegedly gunned down Parojinog along with his wife, brother and 13 other people. His daughter who was his deputy mayor, was arrested together with several people.
“Well, I will make it public. One time, I called for all of them. … And I told them, ‘Do not do it. Do not do it because my order is to destroy the organizations,’ ” Duterte said in a speech to tax officials in Manila on Wednesday, according to a transcript released by the presidential palace on Thursday.
“Parojinog was there and you can ask the ordinary citizens of Ozamiz” about his reputation, Duterte said. “They were running the city as if it was a feudal state of the family.”
Duterte had earlier publicly named the Parojinogs as among those on his list of 150 politicians, judges and members of the police and military who were allegedly involved in drug trafficking. The family had denied the allegations.
Parojinog was the third mayor on Duterte’s list to be killed in the drugs war. In all the cases, the police said the suspects fired at them first, triggering a gun battle.
Since Duterte took his oath as president in June last year, at least 2,700 alleged drug addicts and drug peddlers have been killed, police said. About 5,700 drug-related deaths were also under investigation, including those blamed on vigilantes.
Opposition politicians, including former President Benigno Aquino, have questioned the effectiveness of Duterte’s crackdown on narcotics. International and local rights group have also raised doubts about the alleged shootout that killed the mayor, claiming that the Parojinogs may have been summarily executed.
Duterte on Wednesday, however, backed the police, saying they were well within their rights to shoot at suspects who were fighting back.
“The police and the military should make sure that their enemies are dead,” Duterte said. “Otherwise, if the other guy can still pull the trigger, you will end up with a dead police or a dead military soldier.”
“Why did I give that order? Well, I am the commander-in-chief of all the armed forces, remember that. Commander-in-chief of all armed forces in the Philippines,” he said.
‘A massacre by any standard’
But lawyer Ferdinand Topacio, who represents the Parojinog family, said his clients alleged that the raid was aimed at killing the mayor and his relatives. He said Princess Nova, the daughter, claimed that the police also tried to kill her but that they failed.
“A grenade was thrown at them but it did not explode,” Topacio said. “They were gathered together with other people. They were already being submissive to the police,” when the alleged attempt occurred.
He said there were lapses in the police raid that led to the big number of deaths, stressing that those slain were ordinary village watchers on guard duty for the mayor’s household.
What happened was “qualified as a massacre by any standard,” Topacio said.
Felipe Villamor in Manila contributed to this report.